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Morel Hunting in Bloomington

Posted in: Outdoors Comments

It's that time of the year again in Bloomington. No, I'm not talking about the warm weather, blooming flowers or chirping birds. I'm talking about mushrooms - more specifically, morels. If you've never hunted, found or eaten a morel mushroom, then you're truly missing out on one of spring's most eventful and delicious fleeting mysteries. 

Where to Begin
I'd recommend going morel hunting with someone who has experience in finding and identifying these fungi. If they're really nice the'll show you their secret patch (we've all got one or two). The Hoosier National Forest south of Bloomington is ideal morel territory but they can be found almost anywhere. Regardless of where you go, do make sure you have permission and bring plenty of bags just in case you stumble into a goldmine (morels in some stores can go for as much as $200 per lb.). Though they are fairly easy to recognize, there are a few lookalike mushrooms that will leave you with a bad stomach ache at best (some can be fatal), so if you're not absolutely sure it's a morel, better to leave that one in the woods.

Here's what you're looking for:

Morel Mushroom 

 

The Hunt is On
There are many theories about where to look for these elusive mushrooms. Some say to search near elm trees, others say oak trees, still others say may apples. The truth is they can be found almost anywhere; forests, fields, backyards and gardens. There is no exact science to where they grow (yet) but there are a few general rules that will get you headed in the right direction.

1. They like to pop up on warm days after spring rains (mid April - early May)

2. They like well drained, soft soil rather than marshy areas or hardened mud.

3. They like to grow near standing dead trees with decaying underground roots.

4. Early morels will grow near the edges of fields and on south-facing slopes where the sunshine is plentiful. As the season progresses they'll be found deeper in the woods.

5. Morels usually grow in groups, so cover plenty of ground and when you find one slow down and search the area thoroughly.

6. Remember the spot - it is very likely that they will come back next year (especially if you pinch off the stem of the mushroom and leave the roots undisturbed).

Bring a bottle of water and a snack, pick a sunny day and plan on doing more walking than picking. Even if you return empty-handed, it's still not a bad way to spend a warm spring afternoon. Happy Hunting!

A Morning with IndiGo Birding Nature Tours

Posted in: Outdoors Comments

If you love birds, you're going to love this new addition to Bloomington's visitor options - IndiGo Birding Nature Tours is a brand-new business created by local naturalist David Rupp so he could share his love of birds and nature with visitors (and residents) in Bloomington. 

Did you know that Bloomington is a birding hot spot in the Midwest? We're very lucky to have a number of fantastic birding locations right here in our area - places like Beanblossom Bottoms Nature PreserveMonroe LakeYellowwood State ForestLeonard Springs Nature Park, the Hoosier National Forest, Goose Pond in nearby Green County and more. This allows IndiGo Birding to showcase a wide variety of birds to his clients, and he'll customize your experience based on the time you have available and what your group's specific interests and experience levels are. 

A few of us on staff here at Visit Bloomington (and a couple of lucky visitors we encountered) were able to join David for a tour on the morning of April 16, 2014 and we had a fun and educational experience at Beanblossom Bottoms! We were able to see a bald eagle (and its nest) and several other varieties of birds, including more than one species of woodpecker and a beautiful, bright yellow Prothonotary Warbler!  

Here are a few photos from our adventure: 


Setting off with David at Beanblossom Bottoms... Birding - Setting Off
As you enter the preserve, you can often see turtles sunning at the pond. 
Birding - Turtle Pond
To the left, there's a viewing platform that overlooks a bald eagle nest!Birding - Eagle Nest
David came prepared with a fancy spotting scope to give us close-up views of the eagle and its nest. Birding - Eagle Viewing
The main trail at Beanblossom Bottoms is a wooden boardwalk, since it is a wetlands forest.Birding - boardwalk
This is the Beanblossom creek crossing where we spotted several woodpeckers - and a muskrat!Birding - Beanblossom Creek
David pointed out several species to us and helped us locate them with binoculars (and cameras).Birding - Pointing out a woodpecker
A happy birding guide is one who just pointed out two red-headed woodpeckers to his group!Birding - Happy birding guide
The boardwalk trail is two miles long, with periodic viewing platforms, like this one.Birding - overlook
This is a great place to see not only woodpeckers and warblers, but also water birds!Birding - overlook view

What's on Your B-town Bucket List?

Posted in: Arts & Culture Comments

We're about one month away from Indiana University's graduation weekend...
and that means there are thousands of Hoosiers getting ready to graduate and leave Bloomington to begin exciting new adventures. We wish them well and hope to see them back to visit at some point, but in the meantime we've put together a list of classic only-in-Bloomington, off-campus experiences every student should be sure to have before graduation day.
Here are thirty things to add to your B-town Bucket List: 

  1. See a local play by Cardinal Stage Co. or the BPP
  2. Enjoy some live music at The BluebirdB-town Bucket List
  3. Eat a steak at Janko's Little Zagreb
  4. Spend an afternoon looking for eagles at Lake Monroe
  5. Climb the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower (bring a camera)
  6. Visit the Butler Winery Vineyard location
  7. Walk the entire B-Line Trail
  8. Watch the sunset with friends from the Upland Patio
  9. Visit WonderLab
  10. Hike back to the waterfall at Cascades Park
  11. Go rock climbing at Hoosier Heights
  12. Eat a picnic in a local park
  13. Ice cream at the Chocolate Moose
  14. Take in a show at the Comedy Attic
  15. Participate in Downtown Gallery Walk at least once
  16. Eat at Hinkle's Hamburgers
  17. Take a selfie with Herman (and one with Hoagy, too)
  18. Walk the trail at Leonard Springs Nature Park
  19. Go to a drive-in movie
  20. Go to at least one restaurant on 4th Street
  21. Play pool or darts at the Vid
  22. Hike out to Steppe Cemetery in Morgan-Monroe State Forest
  23. Spin the prayer wheels at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center
  24. Dessert with drinks at Oliver Winery Downtown
  25. Actually go inside the Monroe County Courthouse - look up
  26. Attend Farmers' Market at least once
  27. Visit the Monroe County History Center
  28. Go hiking or canoeing at Lake Griffy
  29. Discover the Little Africa Wildlife Area a Lake Lemon...
  30. ...and have lunch at the Porthole Inn
  31. Spend the afternoon on Lake Monroe (ON, not at) 


For extra credit, venture beyond Bloomington proper to explore a few our neighboring communities. Here are five day trips we highly recommend:

  1. Visit the Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum in nearby Solsberry
  2. Explore Bluespring Caverns, Spring Mill's Pioneer Village and learn about Gus Grissom in Lawrence County
  3. Drive over to Nashville and visit Brown County State Park (and do some shopping!)
  4. Go to the Art Sanctuary (and Candy Kitchen) in nearby Martinsville 
  5. Venture as far as Columbus to visit Zaharako's and relax in Mill Race Park
 

Before you leave town, give us a follow on your social media platform of choice and sign up to receive our monthly emails so you can stay in the know about all the great things happening here in Bloomington. That way, you'll know exactly when to get started on planning your first Alumni visit back to B-town - and you can do that right here at www.visitbloomington.com! 

Are there things you'd add to our B-town Bucket List? Leave us a comment! 

Eagle Watch Weekend 2014

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

Have you ever wondered why they hold the annual Eagle Watch Weekend at Lake Monroe in January, instead of say... June? While it might be more enjoyable to search for the elusive eagles in the sky during warmer weather, it would actually be a lot harder to spot them! 

Eagle Watch Weekend is arguably Indiana's premiere annual eagle-watching and birding event. Rest assured, the scheduling of such an important event takes into account the best time of year for successful eagle-spotting on Monroe Lake. Today, after a successful reintroduction program in the 1980's, Monroe Lake is the birding and eagle-watching capital of Indiana, with more than 300 documented species of birds as well as year-round resident pairs of bald eagles that call the lake home.

There are a few reasons for the wintery timing of Eagle Watch Weekend, and eagle viewing in general in this area of the Midwest. One of the primary reasons is that the bald eagles are actually more visible against the typically gray winter skies than against the pretty cloud-filled blue skies of other seasons. In addition, the lack leaves on the trees means it's easier to spot nests and eagles among the branches. Equally important are the many bald eagles from points north that overwinter around Monroe Lake. More eagles in the area means you're more likely to catch a glimpse of one!

Eagle Watch Weekend isn't just about eagle viewing, though - there are more than a dozen programs and outings planned for this year's event, including a live raptor show, nature presentations, special children's activities and more!

This year's Eagle Watch Weekend is January 24-26, 2014. It's not too late to get registered and book your room at beautiful Fourwinds Resort to learn more about the majestic bald eagles, and other birds and animals, that can be seen at Monroe Lake. Be sure to mention Eagle Watch Weekend for a special discounted hotel rate!   

Eagle Watch Weekend 

13 Things to Know About Halloween in B-town

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

Are you ready to celebrate the arrival of autumn and all those hauntingly fun events that come along with Halloween? Bloomington's ready, and we don't want you to miss one spooky thing! Here's your checklist of the 13 things you need to know about celebrating the season - B-town style! 

One

Take a Haunted Museum Tour on Oct. 11 and 25, at the Monroe County History Museum. Local celebrities of the past will be on hand to answer all your spooky questions!

Two

See enchantingly beautiful handmade, blown glass creations at the 4th Annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch event on the Monroe County Courthouse Lawn on Oct. 12. Choose from over 300 beautiful examples!

Three

Take the Road Less Traveled Fall Color Eco-tours from Natural Bloomington. On Oct. 12 and 19, enjoy beautiful fall colors on routes only locals know! (Nothing scary about these tours; just beautiful scenery, so bring your camera.)

Four

Discover the world of real blood sucking creatures at WonderLab with Nature's Vampires on Oct. 19. Some of them aren't as scary as you might think!

Five

Walk the Trick or Treat Trail - if you dare! Cartoon friends and villains will be on hand in the forest at RCA Park on Oct. 19. There will be plenty of treats - and some stories, too!

Six

What should you do on an ink-black night with learing jack-o'-lanterns and crisp apple cider? Enjoy the Festival of Ghost Stories beneath the stars at Bryan Park, of course! The night comes alive on Oct. 25.

Seven

Come along for a Ghostly Gathering on Oct. 25 and 26 at Paynetown State Recreation Area. Participants will enjoy a variety of festivities, including pumpkin painting and a costume contest!

Eight

Check out the fangs, scales, claws and more at Nature's Monsters Live Show at WonderLab on Oct. 26. Have some close encounters and discover the some of the critters we think of as monsters aren't so scary after all!

Nine

Join the IU Auditorium for a silent film with creepy organ accompaniment, as Dennis James Hosts Halloween on Oct. 26. James is joined this year by experimental percussionist Mark Goldstein to perform their original accompaniment to the Sci-Fi silent film and cult classic Aelita: Queen of Mars.

Ten

Venture into rural Bloomington, near the legendary Stepp Cemetery, where dozens of creatures, monsters and maniacs await at the Barn of Terror. Open every Friday and Saturday in October. 

Eleven

Enjoy a trip on the Haunted Hayride, every Friday and Saturday in October. Not-so-scary earlier times are available for family fun, or venture out in the dark and into the haunted stable, if you dare!

Twelve

Learn about Victorian mourning practices and see odd creatures from the Monroe County History Center's collection at the Attic of Oddities Exhibit, on display throughout October.

Thirteen

Pick out the perfect pumpkin from one of the locations below and take a little bit of Bloomington home for your own Halloween celebrations. You'll find the perfect blank canvas for the best jack o' lantern ever, and maybe even some beautiful decorative varieties as well.

Fowler Pumpkin Patch 
4865 South Leonard Springs Road, 812-322-0050 - Open Friday through Sunday.

Musgrave Orchard & Cider Mill
8820 North Old State Road 37, 812-339-5006 - Open Wednesday through Sunday. Pick up your pumpkin, apples, Indiana's best apple cider and all the other trappings of fall!

Oliver Winery
8024 Indiana Highway 37, 812-876-5800 - Several varieties of pumpkins and other gourds, locally grown at the Creekbend Vineyard, are available throughout October at the Oliver Winery tasting room.

Why You Should Ride in the 46th Annual Hilly Hundred

Posted in: Outdoors Comments

The Hilly Hundred Bicycle Tour is set to roll into Bloomington and the surrounding area for the 46th year on October 18-20, 2013. This three-day event features two days full of road cycling on some of the toughest hills in the state, but that's not all! It also offers lots of great camaraderie with other cyclists, live entertainment each evening and spectacular scenic vistas along the way. You can register online up until October 14. 

If you're a first year participant and not sure what to expect, or you've considered participating, but haven't registered yet, we'd like to share with you this excellent testimonial that Visit Bloomington received about a past Hilly Hundred event:  

"I've been riding in the Hilly Hundred for more than 20 years now and I highly recommend it to riders of all levels. It's a lot of fun. I travel from North Carolina to Indiana for the event every year because the unique terrain and route are fantastic and the ride support and organization are the best I've ever experienced. Plus, the weather in South Central Indiana in the fall is always spectacular.

I've both camped at the Hilly campsite and stayed at hotels in Bloomington in previous years and I enjoy doing both of those things. My very favorite thing about the Hilly Hundred is that every year I get to ride in it with 4,000 of my best friends. We get up early, ride all day and have a good time going out to dinner in Bloomington in the evening. They have so many great options but I enjoy brewpubs and I think Bloomington has two of the best in Bloomington Brewing Company and Upland Brewing Company. Plus don't forget the delicious Italian Beef sandwich at Nick's Pub. That alone is worth the trip."

John from Charlotte, North Carolina

We hope you can join John, and 4,000 of his closest friends, this year for the Hilly Hundred Bicycle Tour. It really is one of the premiere bicycling events in the Midwest, and we are very proud to have it each year in Monroe County. If you've participated before, we'd love to hear about your favorite things about the Hilly Hundred in the comments section below! We'll leave you with just a few of the many photos this great annual ride. 

Hilly Hundred

Hilly Hundred

Hilly Hundred

Hilly Hundred 

SCI Kiwanis Indiana Balloon Festival

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

Every year there's a new event that I get really psyched about. Sometimes it's a concert, sometimes it's an arts show; this year, it's a balloon festival. I mean I am super pumped, like counting the days excited. I'm not sure if it's the allure of big, bright hot air balloons, the awesome music lineup, the yummy food vendors or the fact that it will be such a great family-friendly event. Doesn't even matter, that point is, I'm excited and it's going to be fun!

Indiana Balloon Festival 

So here are a few more details. First up, the event takes place September 6-8 at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. It costs $12 per carload - so pack the kids in the minivan for the best deal! On Friday, the festival will start at 4 pm and end at 10 pm; Saturday it's from 6 am (no, seriously) to 10 pm; Sunday it's 6 am to  9am.

The reason for the early start time is the balloon race, which will feature 20 balloons. They have to race early due to atmospheric pressure or something scientific like that. If you aren't an early bird, come back at 5 pm for a second race on Saturday. The balloons will also light up at 7 pm on Friday and Saturday at 7 pm for a night glow, where they light up while synchronized to music. And rides on these tethered beauties will be available those evenings too. I can only imagine the delight on my kids' faces when they get to ride in a balloon!

As mentioned there is also some great music during the festival. On Friday night, Marc Broussard will be performing his soulful rock music. I am very excited to see this show, he is fantastic! On Saturday night, you can see local favorite, singer/songwriter Jenn Cristy. Both shows start at 8 pm. Other musical events are a fun Kiwanis Idol, where contestants will perform and be judged by local celebrities (including Jenn Cristy).

Food will be available (boy, will it) with local food vendors providing some goodies, plus a chili cook-off on Saturday. There's a cornhole tournament on Saturday too, but you have to pre-register so don't come with your bags ready to throw down unless you've signed up in advance. Enjoy some fun activities with the kids, and pick up some health tips, at the health & safety fun fair.

So are you excited too? Yes, you are, and I'll see you there!

 

Summer Fun: Paddleboarding!

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

There are few times that a new adventure sport shows up in the outdoor world. If you recall the mountain biking revolution of the 80's, you can begin to understand the waves being made by the twenty-first century equivalent - standup paddleboarding. With its short learning curve, versatility on flat and moving water, and peaceful workout, paddleboarding's popularity has exploded all across the country.

Paddleboarding 

There are a few reasons why I've come to enjoy paddleboarding here in Monroe County. The first is our proximity to open water. Lake Lemon, Monroe Lake, and numerous smaller bodies of water lie within thirty minutes of Bloomington.

Paddleboarding 

The second reason is the summer heat. As the temperature climbs, my motivation for outdoor aerobic exercise plummets. Being someone who has rarely been able to enjoy a workout with a roof over my head, summer often becomes my downtime. With paddleboarding, the low impact complete body movement of paddling while standing on an oversized surfboard is the perfect option on a hot day. Hopping on and off of a board is as easy as it gets. Paddle, dive off, swim, remount, and repeat.

Paddleboarding  

Paddleboarding - Nelson

The third reason I enjoy paddleboarding is a two-year-old named Nelson. My wife and I's son, Nelson, simply loves sitting on the board, seemingly floating only inches from the water. With the board nearly 11' in length and 2.5' wide, there's plenty of buoyancy to bring along my favorite 30lb passenger.

There are a few things to know before you go:

 

  • On DNR and state park lakes and reservoirs, paddleboards are classified as non-motorized boats. Purchase and affix an annual non-motorized boat permit to your board.
  • You'll need a PFD at least attached to your board, if not simply worn.
  • Paddle outside of designated swimming zones.
  • Fun is mandatory. Standing up is optional. If you are more comfortable staying on your stomach or paddling from your knees, do it! In fact, paddling on your stomach is a good practice until you get into deeper water to avoid falling off into shallow water.
  • There are only a few locations that sell or rent paddleboards in southern and central Indiana. IU Outdoor Adventures, located in Eigenmann Hall on the Bloomington campus, rents a fleet of various size and shape paddleboards. This can be a safe option to understand your board preferences before taking the plunge and purchasing one. The nearest location to purchase a paddleboard is at the recently opened REI in Indianapolis.

 

Boards 

Special thanks to our guest blogger, Dustin Smucker for enlightening us about paddleboarding opportunities in the area. Dustin is the Programs Coordinator with Indiana University Outdoor Adventures. When he's not working, you'll find this outdoor enthusiast in pursuit of local, kid-friendly adventures with his family.

B-town's Three Most Challenging Golf Moments

Posted in: Outdoors Comments

Special thanks to Bloomington local Mark Cady for this run down of the toughest golf holes in town. Mark is the business manager for the Bloomington Brewing Company and when he's not hard at work, you just might find him on one of the golf courses listed below!  

When Assembly Hall closes its doors and the flowers, leaves, dandelions and any other sort of weed found in my garden in need of pulling start popping up, I know it's time to dust off the old irons and head out to the golf course. The smell of new cut fairways, the feel of crisp dewed greens and the audible groan I make as a drive rolls into the dense, deciduous forest are just a few of my favorite rites of golf season. From Cascades to The Pointe, there are many difficult and fun challenges I face, but here is a rundown of a few that I lose sleep, and more than a few sleeves of Titleists, on.

Golf at Cascades

Cascades Quarry #9: 
So, you are having a good front 9 at the Cascades Golf Course. Had a nice drive on the par 4 8th and feeling good about your round. Maybe you are also feeling good about the Dog and Gatorade your playing partner owes you for the 20 ft. birdie you made on the par 3 5th. That's until you step up to the Quarry course 9th. This par 3 travels 240 yards from the back tees over not so friendly low areas without real bailout area and a green guarded by bunkers on both sides. If you finish with a par, you are more than happy entering the turn.

Indiana University #12: 
This hole on the Indiana University Golf Course starts off innocently enough, until you hit your tee shot. A deceptively long 441 yard par 4, the fairway tilts right to left making it difficult to keep your drive in the fairway. You need it to be, because you look uphill at a green you really can't see. My advice - add at least a club to get where you need to be. 

Eagle Pointe #10: 
The signature hole of the Quarry Course at Eagle Pointe Golf Resort, this 150 yard par 3 is beautiful to the eye yet imposing to your golf game. The green seems easy enough to reach. That is if you don't mind the waterfall traveling in front of the green, or the pond to the left. Take a good whack at an 8 iron and you should stay dry but the green is slightly more uphill than one may think.

Many more holes, bunkers, rocky points and trees await me this summer in Bloomington and I can't wait for them!  If I'm not in the mood for a long day at the links, I really enjoy stopping at Taylor's Par 3 to spruce up my short iron game. Many of the holes are a pitching wedge or less, and the greens are tricky enough to keep you sharp. Whatever my mood, I know each time I pack my bag into the trunk I know I am in for not only a challenge, but a fun day. That is, at least, until I get to the first tee...

Don't forget to sign up here to win free golf passes (and food) from Eagle Pointe Golf Resort and Visit Bloomington! The contest ends on June 17, 2013. 

Monroe Lake will get you fishing!

Posted in: Family Fun Comments

Indiana has a lot of great fishing spots, but one of the most popular (and the biggest!) is located just southeast of Bloomington.

With over 10,000 acres of water to explore, every angler can find their "perfect fishing spot" at Monroe Lake. Experienced anglers often aim for the lake's bass and walleye, but beginners can find lots of easy-to-catch bluegill and crappie.

Lake Monroe Sunset. Photo Credit: Noel Niehaus 

Several upcoming events at Monroe Lake's Paynetown State Recreation Area (4850 S. State Road 446, Bloomington) make it easy for new people, particularly kids, to try out the sport of fishing.

The summer recreation season at the lake kicks off with a special evening reception, "Fish, Food, and Friends," on Friday, May 24 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Activity Center, located inside Paynetown SRA.

Visitors can see which fish made the staff's "Top 5" list, view plaster fish that were hand-painted by local elementary students, pick up a copy of the 2013 Fishing Guide, and "swim" over to the snack table for special fish-themed treats - and kids can enjoy "fishy" games, crafts, and activities.

The Paynetown Activity Center staff will also highlight a new, FREE fishing equipment rental program, which will debut on Saturday, May 25. So if you don't have your own equipment, or forget to bring it with you, you can still enjoy some fishing at Monroe Lake this summer! 

Visitors fish for bluegill off the dock at Paynetown SRA. Photo Credit: Jill Vance 

The following weekend, June 1 and 2, is Free Fishing Weekend at Monroe Lake. A kids' fishing derby is scheduled at Paynetown SRA on Saturday morning, plus a variety of family-friendly fish-themed programs on both days.  

A participant in the 2012 Kids’ Fishing Derby, part of Free Fishing Weekend, shows off her catch. Photo Credit: Dave Kittaka

 While a fishing license is never required for kids under age 18, the best part of Free Fishing Weekend is that ALL Indiana residents can fish without a license - regardless of age. What a great opportunity to give fishing a try, or introduce someone new to the sport!

You can find out more information about these events, and other programs, on Monroe Lake's website and on their Facebook page.

Jill Vance is the Interpretive Naturalist for Monroe Lake, based out of the Activity Center at Paynetown State Recreation Area. She has been with the Indiana Division of State Parks and Reservoirs since 2004, previously working as the Interpretive Manager at Spring Mill State Park and as a seasonal naturalist at McCormick's Creek State Park. Jill is a 2004 (M.P.A.) and 2003 (B.S.P.A.) graduate of Indiana University - Bloomington. 

Did you know...

Bloomington was voted one of the top 50 places to live by Men's Journal Magazine...more

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