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Located in west central Indiana, the Cecil M. Harden Lake is a naturalist's delight and lies largely in Parke County and extends into Putnam County. Rich rolling farmland and forest filled with maple, walnut, oak and hickory greet lake visitors as they drive though Parke County en route to Cecil M. Harden Lake. Wildflowers, nuts, berries, and mushrooms dot the wooded areas around the lake adding color throughout the seasons. Although a very beautiful area, Parke County is best known as the "Covered Bridge Capital of America." J.J. Daniels and J.A. Brittin, two master covered bridge builders, lived in Parke County where they built their works of art. Now there are a total of 35 covered bridges dotting the countryside that date back to 1865 through 1921.
Cecil M. Harden Reservoir is also known as Raccoon Lake, was formerly called Mansfield Lake. The lake was renamed in 1974 by a bill signed into Law by President Gerald R. Ford. President Ford waned to recognize Mrs. Cecil Murray Harden for her role in raising money for the project as well as her active involvement serving her community. Designed, built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with cooperative management effort with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Cecil M. Harden Lake was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1938 to reduce flooding while providing recreation and wildlife and fish enhancement. Completed in 1960, Cecil M. Harden Lake now provides many leisure and sport activities for the nature enthusiast.
The Raccoon State Recreation Area (SRA) located on the shores of Cecil M. Harden Lake has so much to offer. Visitors can enjoy hiking several nature trails that meander through lush forest and then rest by the blazing campfires as they turn in for the night at one of the many campsites. Campsites include electric, non electric and primitive sites as well as a camp store and dumping areas. The Raccoon SRA also offers an archery range, boat ramps, horseshoe pits, picnic areas and group shelters, a swimming beach, boat rentals, and volleyball courts. The Raccoon State Recreation Area is also home the historic 1890 Mansfield Roller Mill. Visitors can tour the flour mill seasonally as well as watch corn grinding demonstrations.
Fishing is a popular pastime on Cecil M. Harden Lake. Anglers with a state license will enjoy casting their line in for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, striped bass, bluegill, catfish, crappie and walleye. Trout fishing is also available in season in the tail water area. Although more limited than anglers, hunters many enjoy hunting opportunities for waterfowl and upland game in designated area. Hunters must sign in and return a hunting permit card to the sign-in station upon their departure. Wildlife viewing, however, is welcomed everywhere.
In October Parke County holds an annual nine-day Covered Bridge Festival. The vibrant fall colors bring people from all over to enjoy the festivities as well as the spender of Cecil M. Harden Lake. Fiery reds, bright oranges and brilliant yellows fill the surrounding forest making camping even more delightful.
Vacationing at Cecil M. Harden Lake does not have to be a once a year event. Lake front homes can be purchased or rented to those who enjoy scenic views from large bay windows while staying warm and cozy by a crackling fire. Vacation rentals can also be found in nearby Indianapolis for those who like an occasional visit to the lake while taking pleasure in the hustle and bustle of city life. A luxurious furnished condo in downtown Indianapolis will allow close access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as a short drive to the peaceful Cecil M. Harden Lake.
Whether it is the vivid colors of fall that bring lake visits out to Cecil M. Harden Lake or the calm and refreshing waters, everyone will certainly be pleased. Some visitors may even decide to call Cecil M. Harden home. Whatever it is that brings people to the lake, Cecil M. Harden has what it takes to be a repeated vacation.
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