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Lake Manitou is an oasis in the small bustling city of Rochester, Indiana. Surrounded by a park and nature preserves, the spring-fed lake covers 775 acres and provides recreation and relaxation for visitors and residents in the North Central part of the state. This charming lake, located 60 miles west of Fort Wayne, provides activities such as fishing, boating, jet skiing, water skiing, swimming, and picnicking. Visitors can also get in some golfing at the nearby golf courses or take a leisurely stroll on the various walking trails. The surrounding parks provide unique wildlife viewing and bird watching opportunities you wouldn't expect inside the city limits.
With a rich history and beautiful scenery, Lake Manitou has been a destination for relaxation and fun for over one hundred years. With the construction of a dam in 1827, the lake started out as a source of energy. Under the terms of a treaty with the Potawatomi Native Americans of the area, the U.S. government constructed a grist mill to grind corn. The dam provided water power for the mill. The area around the lake was one of the first white settlements in what would eventually become the county seat for Fulton County. The first village was called Tiptonville in honor of General John Tipton. After the Potawatomi tribes were removed to Kansas in 1838, the village, mill and dam fell into disrepair.
The name "Manitou" derives from the Potawatomi word for both "good spirit" and "evil spirit." The Potawatomi tribes fished and hunted in this area for 150 years. They believed that the waters of Lake Manitou harbored a monster fish or serpent with supernatural powers. Legend reports that the Serpent of the Manitou devoured all the fish after arriving from Lake Michigan, and drove away wild game by shooting out serpentine tentacles to drag the animals into the water. Native American prayers banished the serpent, and out of gratitude they named the lake after the Great Spirit.
Hotels and resorts were built along the shoreline of Lake Manitou during revitilization in the early 1900s. Thousands of people came each year to enjoy entertainment under the stars that the resorts and hotels brought to their dance halls which included nationally known big bands. Until 1937, an amusement park operated for 15 years and included a toboggan water slide, pier and diving platform. People also came for lake cruises, to sunbathe at the beaches and to swim and fish Lake Manitou.
Today Lake Manitou provides a respite for city dwellers and visitors. It is a very popular fishing destination, both in the summer and the winter, harboring good populations of many popular game fish. Species include largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, yellow perch, gizzard shad, golden shiner, spotted gar, and warmouth as well as large northern pike. Boat ramps on either side of the lake provide lake access, along with a handicapped accessible fishing pier near the dam. With no speed limit restrictions, the lake is also an attractive destination for speedboaters, jet-skiers, and water skiers. The lake features a ski course, which is located near the south end of the lake.
Lake Manitou has had some water quality issues however. In recent years, the lake has waged a battle against hydrilla plants that grew rampant in the lake. Hydrilla is an Asian plant commonly used to decorate aquariums, but often chokes off other plant life if left unchecked in a lake. To combat the problem, the lake was treated with chemicals. Public access to the lake was limited and boat restrictions were also put in place. In 2009, state officials stated that it appeared that the invasive plant had been eliminated from Lake Manitou, and some boating restrictions were lifted. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds boaters to self-inspect their watercraft, motor and trailer for signs of plants when removing them from the water. The lake will remain closely monitored to ensure that the hydrilla plants do not re-emerge.
Lake Manitou's parks and nature preserves continue to flourish and provide a sanctuary for visitors. Wrapping around the northwestern edge of Lake Manitou, Lakeside Park provides a public boat ramp, pavilion, fishing piers picnic areas and a well maintained butterfly garden. Two nature preserves lie on either side of the lake for wildlife viewing and bird watching. The 162-acre, Bob Kern Nature Preserve is located on the east side of Lake Manito, and 130-acre, Judy Burton Nature Preserve is on the west side of the lake. Both preserves provide bird watching opportunities of rare birds that nest in the marsh including marsh wren, sedge wren and Virginia rail. On the southeastern side of Lake Manitou, 643 acres have been set aside for the Manitou Islands Wetlands which visitors can tour by canoe to see bird habitats and plant life in the marsh and wooded islands.
An established community of homes along the shores provides vacation rentals with lake views and private docks at Lake Manitou. For those looking to relocate to the area, some lake front property is available as well as resale of existing homes. The Lake Manitou Association is an active homeowners association for homeowners and can provide information to those interested in lake living.
With a quaint town on its shores along with nature preserves, parks and lake activities of all kinds, Lake Manitou is a wonderful place to visit in the Northern Tourism Region of Indiana.
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