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Tucked away in the North Region of Indiana, the small city of LaPorte hosts two recreational lakes, Pine Lake and its neighbor Stone Lake. The area includes four other lesser-known lakes, known as Lily Lake, Lower Long Lake, Clear Lake, and Harris Lake (sometimes called Hennessey Lake). Although close together and all within the City of LaPorte, the lakes are very different. Pine Lake and Stone Lake are extremely clear and sparkling, while the others tend toward more productive weed growth. All of the lakes are accessible via the city's system of parks.
Pine lake, sometimes referred to as North Pine Lake and South Pine Lake, is the largest and has the most recreational opportunities available to the general public. It is also a favored residential lake, with many beautiful homes built on the peninsula called Holmes Island. Holmes Island nearly splits the lake in two. The largest of the lakes by far, Pine Lake's 543 surface acres provide plenty of room for waterskiing, sailing and wakeboarding. Two commercial marinas along the shoreline offer rental pontoons, boat repairs, storage and dock space. One of the marinas offers a small beach area with picnic facilities. A number of properties on Pine Lake offer short-term vacation rentals in a wide variety of price ranges. Pine Lake also holds one of the most unusual choices for lodgings in LaPorte, a hotel resort with spa which offers waterfront 'staterooms' aboard houseboats tied up at the facility's docks.
Pine Lake is connected to Stone Lake, Harris Lake and Lily Lake by channels, although the only one still used for boating access is the channel to Stone Lake. A public boat ramp is located on Stone Lake near the inlet to the channel. Due to drought and sedimentation issues, the channel has been impassable at times within recent years. The Parks Department dredges the channel every few years to improve access. Much of Stone Lake's shoreline is protected within Soldiers Memorial Park. The new Stone Beach is open for public swimming and recreation, complete with a beach house with restrooms and a concession stand. Lifeguards are on duty from 10:30 am to 4 pm daily from Memorial Day to the opening of the school fall session. A playground, picnic area with grills and outdoor showers are also provided. Trails bisect the area. A second beach, usually called Ski Beach, is located at the south end of the 149-acre lake.
Both Pine Lake and Stone Lake offer plenty of fishing to keep anglers happy. Both hold smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, yellow perch, redear sunfish, walleye and a number of less desirable fish such as bullhead and carp. Some bank fishing is available, and the number of boat ramps means nearly everyone can access the water for free or a nominal fee. The crystal clear waters make canoeing and kayaking especially enjoyable. However, the extreme water clarity is due in part to an infestation of invasive zebra mussels in Pine and Stone Lakes which filter out much of the suspended nutrients that sustain the fish.
One of the goals of the LaPorte Area Lake Association is to monitor water quality and conditions conducive to optimum lake health. To that end, they have worked to hand-remove stands of Eurasian milfoil and regularly assess the health of the lakes. The Association has an annual lake clean-up day, and funds fish stocking and weed control. In conjunction with the LaPorte County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Association works to prevent soil erosion and educate property owners and the public about how best to protect their environmental resources.
The hydrology of all six of the LaPorte-area lakes is interesting in that it displays the changes brought about by agricultural and industrial development. All of the lakes lie atop a glacial moraine, and none originally had any natural outlet. Most water comes from precipitation including winter snows, with a limited amounts of run-off from their relatively small watersheds. City storm drains lead to the lakes in several areas and can contribute to an overabundance of nutrients entering the water. In 1880, Stone Lake, Clear Lake, Lily Lake and Lower Long Lake were all one larger body of water. Drainage ditching, levees and the eventual construction of the Lily Siphon Drain, combined with several years of drought reduced water levels until there were four smaller lakes formed from the single larger one.
Those changes are most evident in Lower Long Lake, where a steadily emergent wetland has transformed the former lake into a marsh that can sometimes be traversed on foot by walking on top of plant tubers amid the muck. There is discussion about building a boardwalk across parts of the marsh to encourage nature study. Water levels have been low enough for several years that the Lily Siphon no longer functions. Pine Lake is treated for algae and weed control through the use of an alum treatment plant along the shore. Legal water levels are now somewhat outdated, as the legal level for Stone Lake, Pine Lake, Harris Lake and Lily Lake are set at 796.2 feet above sea level, higher than the average for the system which is currently 795.5 feet. Clear Lake is legally expected to be at 798.2 feet. A few wet years may well change the water levels and lead to other alterations based on local developments and business needs.
Although LaPorte is seldom thought of as a major recreational destination, the lakes are ideally suited to entertain visitors from around the Michiana area. Located 30 miles west of South Bend and 70 miles southeast of Chicago, the LaPorte Lakes are only 20 miles from Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The region is generally rural with many small towns and local farms offering fresh produce, wineries and self-pick blueberry farms. LaPorte itself holds the Hesston Steam Museum with displays of steam-operated machinery and four separate types of steam locomotives offering train rides that will delight young and old alike. Several large chain hotels are located in the area, along with small motels and bed & breakfasts. Less than 30 miles to the southwest, larger Valparaiso offers such attractions as the Memorial Opera House and a larger variety of shopping venues.
East toward Elkhart, the tidy white farm buildings of the Amish offer roadside stands selling unique handcrafted quilts, jellies and baked goods, along with a glimpse of the Amish traditional lifestyle. Country roads are ideal for cycling and sight-seeing, although those driving the area must always be on the look-out for the black, slow and hard-to-see buggies and carriages carrying Amish families.
Pine Lake and Stone Lake are desirable destinations to get away from the big city for a weekend or an entire summer. Whatever your pleasure, be it fishing, water skiing or simply exploring the nature and cycling trails within the LaPorte Parks system, there is something here to satisfy the weary soul. Escape the city and come visit Pine Lake and Stone Lake.
* Statistics listed are for Pine Lake only.
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