Saturday, August 11, 2012

#271: East Race Rafting

The clouds have cleared, and once again, it feels like summer here in the Bend.  Good thing, because we're on the cusp of the start of a new school year.  Next week, students from IUSB, Notre Dame, Saint Mary's, etc will return.  Enjoy your last weekend of congestion-free Grape Road, and celebrate with a popular summer activity distinctive to South Bend: rafting on the East Race waterway.

Part of the South Bend Parks system, the East Race opened in 1984 after two years of construction, and more than 200,000 have enjoyed its almost 2000 ft stretch of whitewater.  While you can find expert paddlers testing their skills on the East Race any day of the week, on the weekend the Parks Department opens it to the larger public with basic equipment for rent.  For $5 a 'ride', you receive an inflatable kayak or raft, paddle, helmet and life jacket to brave the rapids.  If you have no experience on whitewater, don't worry -- the rapids are only class 2, enough to provide a bit of thrill but not strong to toss anyone out of the raft.

This is the last weekend that the rentals are available -- don't let another year go by without experiencing one of South Bend's greatest attractions!

When: Saturday, 12-5pm; Sunday, 1-5pm
Where: Park and buy your tickets in the parking lot opposite Seitz Park, between The Emporium and AM General Building
Cost: $5/ride.  Rides generally take about 5 minutes.

TIPS:  Cash only.  You must wear close-toed shoes (no flip-flops), and although no one actually goes into the river, you will get soaked.  Dress appropriately.

Kids are welcome -- the first ride might be intimidating, but they'll be hooked after it! -- but must be at least 4'6".

There's an ice cream truck and sometimes a climbing wall on site, but Corby's and the Emporium are probably your best bets to dry off and cool down afterward.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#270: A South Bend RV Trip

The RV industry is very important to the economy of northern Indiana.  Ever wonder what the region looks like from the perspective of "recreational vehicle"?  Check out today's guest post featuring  someone who knows a thing or two about RVs, Joe Laing, Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals.  He also contributes to Monty's Musings RV Travel Blog.

Take an RV trip to South Bend, Indiana for a vacation filled with outdoor fun. You will discover so many activities for the whole family to make it a getaway worth remembering. This will be an appealing trip, especially in an RV. You will have your "home" right along with you so in between adventures you can relax surrounded by the familiar and comfortable things you love.

If coming from Chicago, enter Indiana on Interstate 80 heading east. Follow I-80 and after passing Gary, Indiana, you can take a short side-trip on the Dunes Highway. This will take you to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. An amazing and enchanting time awaits you here, with a sandy beach, miles and miles of trails to hike and wetlands and forests to explore. The visitor center is open from 8 am to 6 pm in the summer and from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm in winter months.  Be sure to visit the West Beach with only a fee of $6 per car per day.

Further on, you will find a great golf course so you can perfect your game. At Michigan City Golf Course you'll discover a lovely 18-hole course in a beautiful wooded setting. Any level of skill is welcome. Browse the pro shop for a full choice of equipment. If you don't play golf, now is surely the time to take it up as a thrilling hobby.

Cut back over to Interstate 80 and on your route to South Bend, stop at Hudson Lake. Get out on the lake on your personal watercraft, and go fishing. You'll catch some largemouth bass or bluegill or both. You can also make this spot your home base for your trip to South Bend. Find RV camping at Lakeside RV Resort. Here you will find a boat launch, horseshoe pits, a swimming pool and much more. You're right on the lake with great views.

Next stop is South Bend, Indiana, your actual destination on this RV vacation. Tour the downtown area by enjoying a horse drawn carriage ride. Catch a ride any Friday evening from 7 to 10 pm. Another popular stop is the East Race Waterway, an artificial whitewater course. Here on the east side of the St. Joseph River, you can ride the rapids. If you are visiting South Bend anytime between 9 June and 12 August, don't miss this special adventure. It is open on weekends only from 12 to 5 pm on Saturdays and 1 to 5 pm on Sundays.

Throughout South Bend you'll find many parks where you can get out into the sunshine. Go to Wheelock Park or Merrifield Park in town. This latter one has a number of sports fields and an Olympic size swimming pool with water slide. If kids are with you (or even if there aren't children on this trip), you will love this park.

Thirty minutes to the west, you will find Bendix Woods County Park. Here is a popular place to go to see wildflowers in bloom during the springtime. Hike the trails and stretch your legs. Enjoy the historic sites available to visit too, such as the original clubhouse and the famous Studebaker pine tree sign. If there in March, stop by the Sugar Camp Days Festival (see 365-SB post #150). Hours vary for this park so call when planning your trip. The number is 574-654-3155.

Other places of interest are the Chamberlain Lake Nature Preserve in South Bend and Potato Creek State Park about twenty-minute drive to the southwest. But you can't neglect the many festivals that are held in and around South Bend all year round. Events in and around South Bend can fill in the times when you need a little change from all that physical activity. In June there are two favorites, Notre Dame's Cleveland Shakespeare Festival and the South Bend Blues & Ribs Festival (see 365-SB post #202).

If coming to South Bend in August, you simply must include the South Bend Reggae Festival on your itinerary. Held annually at the Saint Joe County Fairgrounds, this fest is the best for live entertainment and great food. Gates usually open around 2 pm, and kids under 12 are free.

A South Bend, Indiana RV trip will prove to be quite an entertaining excursion, with all the outdoor recreation you can imagine as well as some history and festivals thrown in. The time will be memorable and you are sure to have experiences that you will share with future generations.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

#269: The Oliver Gardens and the Center for History

Many kids read the story of “The Secret Garden”. Mary, an orphan, moves from India to England to live with her distant relatives. She is unhappy, but soon she befriends her crippled cousin and a local farmboy and together they discover the aforementioned secret garden, a wild place full of flowers, broken swings, and imagination. I remember loving the book and subsequently loving the idea of a formal, flowery garden just around the corner.

Part of the formal gardens (plus cameo on the left!)
This might be a heavy-handed segue, forgive me, but I thought of “The Secret Garden” when visiting the Center for History last month. We’ve written about Copshaholm and the West Washington Historic District as a whole previously on this blog, but I have to confess that I, personally, had never spent much time on the Center’s campus. And lo and behold, I found my own secret (or rather unknown) garden. I had been scouting locations for my upcoming South Bend wedding and someone suggested the Oliver Gardens adjacent to the Center for History and attached to Copshaholm. When I visited, it was one of the hottest days in June (we’ve had many more since), and I was immediately charmed by the lush loveliness of the gardens. A green lawn spreads until it reaches a gazebo followed by a stretch of roses in a formal, sunken flowerbed and then the open lawn in front of the mansion. The gardens are in the process of being restored to the original landscaping from 1915 when they were used by the Oliver family for entertaining and relaxing. I can see how enjoyable they must have been as a wealthy family’s backyard. In my opinion, they, themselves, are a reason to make the trip out to West Washington.

The front lawn
And if you do choose to visit, you’ll find yourself with the ability to view much more than the gardens. The Center for History is currently hosting several interesting exhibitions (one called “Gizmos, Corsets, and Concoctions caught my eye) alongside their more permanent ones such as “Girls Who Played Hard Ball” focused on the women’s baseball league that inspired the movie “A League of Their Own”. You’ll also have access to the mansion itself (which we have featured previously). Just make sure to spend some of your summer afternoon in the gardens.

For directions click here.

For more information about the Center for History click here.

For ticket information click here.