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The largest lake in Indiana, Monroe Lake is also one of the state's most scenic. Set among the rolling wooded hills, limestone bluffs overlook the 10,000+-acre reservoir built to control flooding. The reservoir is the primary water source for the City of Bloomington. Monroe Lake Dam was built across Salt Creek by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1965 and has developed into a premier recreational lake. Less than ten miles from Bloomington, home of Indiana University, Monroe Lake one of the most popular summertime destinations in South Central Indiana. Sprawled across portions of Brown, Jackson and Monroe counties, Monroe Lake provides boating, fishing, swimming and all types of outdoor recreation along its 190-mile shoreline. The State of Indiana took full advantage of the new reservoir's recreational possibilities by creating three areas of public lands that can be accessed for camping, swimming, boat access and exploration. The entire shoreline is owned by the US Army Corps. The reservoir and adjacent recreational areas receive over a million-and-a-half visitors a year.
The vast reservoir is a fishing hot spot with good populations of crappie, bluegill, hybrid striper, walleye, catfish, yellow perch, panfish and largemouth bass. Several public boat launch sites plus fishing docks provide plenty of access for anglers. The fishing docks are attractive to those with children and the disabled, giving everyone a chance to get in on the fun. The Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources maintains a scientifically-balanced stocking program and stocks walleye and hybrid stripers regularly. Other access for boats is available at marinas, some of which rent fishing boats. Bass fishing tournaments are held at the lake several times each season. Two swimming beaches are available on state-owned land and are often very busy on hot summer weekends. Both provide picnic areas, shelters and rest rooms. A small fee is charged for each car entering these areas, although several of the boat launch facilities are free. The US Army Corps maintains a picnic area near the dam and hiking trails in the tailwater area.
Monroe Lake is available for all types of water sports. A marina located at the Paynetown State Recreation Area rents every type of watercraft from ski boats, fishing boats, pontoons, jet skis, double-decker pontoons, canoes, kayaks and water sport accessories. Several camping areas are provided on public lands surrounding the lake, with others located nearby. On the southwest shore of the lake, the nearly 13,00-acre Charles C. Dean Wilderness Area offers hiking, horseback riding and primitive camping in a completely wheel-free area: trails are groomed via mule. The Wilderness Area is located within a section of the Hoosier National Forest which surrounds much of the eastern portion of the reservoir and abuts the Brown County State Park. Much of the area is available for hunting during season with appropriate permits. A resort concession has been developed along with southwest shoreline with excellent swimming beach, full-service marina, hotel and fine dining. A PGA-rated golf course is nearby.
Monroe Lake adds a crowning touch to an already popular recreational area. Nearby Bloomington offers all of the usual delights of a college town with plenty of nightlife, galleries, performance arts, museums and sporting events. The ice arena is a major draw during the winter months. Just northeast of Brown County State Park, the small town of Nashville was ranked number 6 on the Midwest Living Magazine list of the best small-town getaways. Home of a growing and thriving arts colony since 1907, Nashville is filled with craft shops, art galleries, theater performances, a dance barn and a Bluegrass Park. Nashville is worthy of a vacation weekend in itself as the area is reputed to contain over 350 shops.
This area of Indiana was originally home to the Miami and Delaware tribes of Native Americans, Purchased by the United States government as a part of Harrison's Purchase under the Treaty of Fort Wayne, the wooded hills provided large amounts of timber for building purposes. The area was officially opened to settlers in 1815, but it is likely a number of European trappers and hunters were already utilizing the area as the wooded hills and many creeks offered plentiful game and fur-bearing animals. Salt deposits in the area were mined commercially and shipped down the local Salt Creek, known for its high salt content.
This area is also famous for the beautiful Indiana Limestone which was quarried and shipped to Chicago, Louisville and even farther afield to build many of the historic buildings and courthouses in the Midwest. Soils in the area are relatively shallow, and farming became unproductive after a few years of intense tillage. Much land reverted to the government for unpaid taxes. The area is covered in second-growth forest and is part of the largest contiguous forest area in Indiana. The wooded covering provides excellent refuge for whitetail deer and small game. The deer were actually re-introduced as they had been depleted in the area due to earlier hunting. Eagles, turkeys, raptors and a variety of song birds are making amazing progress in repopulating the natural landscape.
The Monroe Reservoir area is a highly desirable area for both vacationing visitors and year-round residents. Proximity to Bloomington and Indiana University assures lodgings are always available in the form of hotels, motels and private rentals. Although these do not overlook the lake itself, they are a few short miles away. Bed-and-breakfast facilities in the Nashville area are highly attractive to antique hunters, trekkers and hikers. The quiet country roads are ideal for cycling. The entire area is very popular for geocaching and orienteering with several organized groups in the Bloomington area. Vacation rentals and lodgings are therefore plentiful, but should be reserved well in advance around holidays and summer week-ends. Real estate is often available near the lake, although not on the lake itself. Monroe Lake will exceed all expectations as a fun-filled destination whether for a week or a lifetime. So, come and explore Monroe Lake-you'll be hooked, and so will those fish!
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