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One of the best kept secrets in the North Indiana region is the Chapman Lakes. The two natural lakes, Big Chapman and connected Little Chapman, have been favored residential locations for over 70 years. Located three miles northeast of the City of Warsaw, the Chapman Lakes join a number of natural lakes in this part of the Wabash River drainage. Other areas of Indiana have primarily man-made reservoirs, but Kosciusko County holds many wetland areas and small lakes created by the last glaciers. By 1940 the Chapman Lakes were 'discovered' as an ideal site for cottages, inviting year-round recreation and lakeside living.
The two lake basins are quite different. Big Chapman Lake to the north is 413 surface acres with cottages and year-round homes along the shoreline. Much of the surface is clear of emergent vegetation, making it ideal for boating, water skiing, wake-boarding, jet skiing and pontooning. An enlarged natural channel connects the big lake to smaller Little Chapman Lake, containing about 200 acres. Little Chapman Lake has more weed beds and aquatic growth. Much of its western shoreline is wetlands, creating a haven for wildlife and birds. The east and north shores of Little Chapman Lake are heavily developed. An ADA-accessible Department of Natural Resources (DNR) public boat ramp with parking area and rest rooms is located on the southeast shore of Big Chapman Lake; the concrete ramps allow the launch of larger ski and bass boats. The channel between the two lakes is navigable, and fishermen can utilize both lakes with ease. A small marina is located near the boat ramp, but there is little information published about its services.
Indiana DNR has stocked both lakes over the past 60 years. Fishermen most often angle for bluegill, largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, northern pike, yellow perch and several types of sunfish. The lake is far enough north that it often freezes to support ice fishing. Five or six fishing tournaments are held on Chapman Lakes annually, leading to an overflow of boats and trailers sometimes waiting to unload.
The wetlands along the western shores of both lakes are owned by the state DNR and designated as the Chapman Lake Nature Preserve. Previously named Big Chapman Lake Nature Preserve and Little Chapman Lake Nature Preserve and Wildlife Diversity Area, there is little information publicly available on the over-250 acres of wetland. It appears the name has been changed to encompass both wetlands, which are noted as excellent habitat for several endangered species and species of special concern, including the Virginia rail, the northern harrier, Blanding's turtle, golden-winged warbler, king rail, black-crowned night heron, black and white warbler, least bittern and marsh wren. The 38-acre Little Chapman Nature Preserve, acquired in 1999, is particularly important in maintaining the water levels of Little Chapman Lake. Although not usually open for hunting, the DNR has opened the area for bow-hunting for deer on occasion to reduce overpopulation.
In the past 30 years, a great many former cottages have been remodeled or replaced, making the two lakes nearly 75% developed with year-round housing. With these increases in population have come the normal concerns that all residential lake owners face: how to best protect the water quality and near-shore environment to keep their lakes clean and safe. A voluntary group, the Chapman Lakes Conservation Association, consists of property owners and interested lake users who monitor water quality, educate shoreline users about critical habitat protection, and work with the State to maintain and enhance optimal conditions on their lakes. The affiliated Chapman Lakes Foundation works to generate funding for needed improvements and more specialized lake monitoring. The Association hosts several clean-up and fund raising activities throughout the year to encourage participation and engender a sense of community at the lake. Fish fry dinners, pancake breakfasts, events at the Association Clubhouse, a July 4th 'floatilla' and fireworks keep local residents engaged and a part of the solution to lake improvement.
Although the Chapman Lakes are considered natural lakes, water levels are maintained by the use of a levee and dam structure on the south side of Big Chapman Lake. The levee was last rebuilt in 2005 under the authority of the Indiana DNR, Division of Water. Because Big Chapman lake has two small inflowing creeks and three artificial drains, water levels were at times highly variable, depending on rainfall. The new levee replaces an earthen structure that was often undermined by beaver and rodents, causing leakage and a danger of failure. The new, partially cement levee not only helps to maintain water levels on Big Chapman Lake, but also maintains water levels necessary for the health of the adjoining wetlands.
Only three miles from Warsaw, Chapman Lakes are ideal for a bedroom community near the city. A great many of the residents have chosen to retire here due to the variety of activities to be found in the surrounding area. Warsaw holds some interesting older homes and the Old Jail Museum of the Kosciusko Historical Society. There are several good hotels located here, a bed & breakfast and other small guest lodgings, along with a number of restaurants. Within an hour's drive, a number of quiet and scenic forms of entertainment open up. Amish Country is just to the north, with driving tours, buggy rides, a wealth of Amish crafts and homemade food items to choose from. Middlebury holds a famed Amish restaurant and affiliated modern inn. Not far away, one can visit the RV Hall of Fame, craft and art markets, botanical gardens, the Billy Sunday Museum and the Hallmark Museum. The University of Notre Dame at South Bend has cultural events occurring year round.
Occasionally rental lodgings can be found at the Chapman Lakes-usually private homes rented by the week. Real estate is also available. Other lakes in the area hold full-fledged resorts, campgrounds and guest cottages. The laid-back country atmosphere holds friendly, smiling people and a million reminders of life as it was before the modern era. So whether your style is power boating or paddling, or visiting nearby Amish shops, there is something here for you. Bring the fishing gear and visit Chapman Lakes. You'll wonder how they kept this great treasure a secret for so long.
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