Kosciusko? Let’s Go!

Northern county yields winter wonders

By Glenda Winders

With its more than 100 lakes, you might have thought Kosciusko County was a summer getaway. The fact is, however, that when those lakes freeze over, and the snow starts to fly, the possibilities for fun keep going. No, you won’t be swimming or boating, but come in the winter and you’ll discover a whole other side to this welcoming community.

“There are a number of ways to enjoy beautiful Kosciusko County in the winter,” says Matt Metzger, director of the office of marketing at Grace College and Seminary in Winona Lake. “A few of my favorite winter recreational activities include ice skating, fat-tire mountain biking and winter camping.”

Want to follow his lead and head outdoors? Several trails in the area give you access to nature and much more. Or use those same frozen trails to walk, hike or jog. If they’re willing, your pets are welcome, too.

Trail head

Start with the Heritage Trail, where your ride will take you past art that depicts attributes of the heritage of Winona Lake — kindness, virtue, generosity, community, gathering, beauty, respect, legacy, peace and love. Beyer Farm Trail is a boardwalk through the wetlands, and along the 2-mile asphalt Old Chinworth Bridge Trail you’ll see two historic bridges. The Winona Lake Trails will take you through the forest near the lake, and the 11-mile Syracuse-Wawasee Trail system connects Syracuse, Syracuse Lake and the northern part of Lake Wawasee.

When the lakes where you splashed and fished last summer are frozen, that’s when the ice-fishing sheds start to appear. Lake Tippecanoe near Leesburg is said to be one of the best in the state for this sport, and local outfitters can help you find the augers, chisels, cleats and other equipment you’ll need.

Indoor fun

Ready to go inside but still want to play? At Super Geeks & Gaming you can try your hand at axe-throwing or play a board game or a hand of cards.

When you’re seriously ready to relax, however, visit one of Warsaw’s two Himalayan salt caves. At Himalayan Salt and Scents, you can sit on a salt bench or antigravity chairs or lie on a salt bed to completely de-stress in this therapeutic environment. Then stop at its shop to pick up salt-related items to take home — a salt lamp, maybe, or edible salts. At Cave on the Square you can pair this same experience with time in an infrared sauna.

Activities abound for those who would rather stay cozily inside for the duration. At Pottery Bayou, you’ll be able to paint pottery or fuse glass, and at several museums you can learn about the area’s heritage of innovation, entrepreneurs and faith.

The Winona History Center, for example, tells the story of Winona Lake in four galleries located in the historic Westminster Hall on the Grace College campus. Here you will learn about the development of Spring Fountain Park by the Beyer brothers, local dairy farmers, as well as Winona’s significance as a Chautauqua site and gospel music pioneer Homer Rodeheaver. You’ll also learn about evangelist Billy Sunday, but perhaps the best way to do that is to visit his nearby home, which still contains his family’s belongings. Sunday, who settled in Winona Lake in 1911, played for the Chicago White Stockings and became a preacher who galvanized religion to fight social evils.

The Old Jail Museum inside the historic Kosciusko County Jail includes the sheriff’s home attached to the jail and also houses the Kosciusko County Historical Society and Genealogy Library. In addition to other local history, you’ll learn about gangsters who frequented the area, such as John Dillinger and Al Capone.

Aviation enthusiasts will love the Lawrence D. Bell Aircraft Museum. Bell, who was born in Mentone, was the founder of Bell Aircraft. His company invented the first supersonic jet (piloted by Chuck Yeager), the first jet-propelled airplane, the world’s first commercial helicopter, the world’s fastest and highest-flying airplane — the Bell X-1A — and the first vertical takeoff and landing jet.

Shopping, of course, is a year-round activity, and one place to start might be the Village at Winona. This spot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and now more than 20 homes have been renovated into locally owned restaurants and retail shops. They are located along Winona Lake and the Winona Lake canal near large green spaces and parks, so gorgeous views abound. The new Miller Sunset Pavilion, set to open next year, will have an ice rink in the winter.

Other shops also offer antiques, collectibles, home goods, boutiques and some surprises. Locally owned Warsaw Cut Glass was started in 1911, and today master artisans use the same techniques and type of equipment to cut designs into goblets, cups, vases and the like. At Whetstone Woodenware in Silver Lake, now run by the son of the original owners, you’ll find salad bowls, measuring cups and more beautifully carved from locally sourced wood. MudLOVE makes clay bracelets and mugs with meaningful phrases etched into the pottery, and each product sold provides one week of clean water to those in need in the Central African Republic.

While you’re here, be sure to take in a show at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts. Catch big-name musical acts, Broadway-style shows, professional theater and symphonic concerts, depending on when you’re here. What makes this venue special is that 10 rows of seats circle the stage, making for an experience that is close-up and engaging.

Eat it up!

Kosciusko County is home to breweries, distilleries and wineries, so whatever your choice of adult beverage, you’ll have lots of options to explore. For beer, you might start at the Man Cave Brewing Co., a local favorite that typically has some 16 of its own beers on tap. It also offers a bar-food menu that ranges from cheese curds to chorizo, shrimp tacos to a muffuletta burger. A plus is that this environmentally conscious spot supports part of its brewing process with solar power.

Hoplore Brewing Co. is another possibility. Located in an old mill, it provides a variety of beers and healthy food that includes house-made kimchi. The Ledgeview Brewing Co., purveyor of craft beers, calls itself “a BBQ joint.” Sip your suds alongside a slab of ribs or a pulled-pork sandwich.

If you shopped at the Village, you may already be familiar with Port Winona Wine and Market. Here you can taste wine and purchase the perfect cheese to nibble as you imbibe — all with a view of the lake. The family-owned Tippy Creek Winery creates both sweet and dry local wines in a pastoral setting.

The rich, dark leather-and-wood décor at the Anthology Whiskey Room might be the perfect place to hole up on a chilly evening. They currently stock 1,025 different whiskeys for you to enjoy, and the bartenders can tell you about them all. At travel-themed Paradiso the décor makes you feel as if you’re in the tropics, even on the coldest of days. The cocktail menu draws its inspiration from places such as Cartagena, Melbourne and Barcelona.

If all that playing in the snow made you hungry, you’re lucky to be in Kosciusko County.

“The food scene in Kosciusko County is very wide and eclectic,” says Kyle Phelps, manager of the Boathouse on the shore of Winona Lake. “Our restaurant focuses specifically on American dishes and traditional fare, but a couple of items on our menu have Latin and Asian influences. There’s a restaurant down the street from us that has sushi on small plates, and downtown are niche-type eateries, such as one that serves Russian street food.

If it’s a weekend, start with brunch at Rua, where you can choose to feast on either breakfast or lunch fare: eggs Benedict on naan, shrimp and grits or a fried chicken sandwich. Couple it with a Bloody Mary or mimosa, or try ginger kombucha or organic lemonade. The same people who own Creighton’s Crazy Egg Café and Coffee Bar also own a 10,000 acre, 3 million chicken egg farm, so they can guarantee that the eggs they put into their creative scrambles, Benedicts and omelets are fresh. If you come for lunch, you’ll find comfort food such as chicken and noodles, macaroni and cheese, and meatloaf.

Light Rail Café and Roaster in the Village is known for its excellent coffee and light breakfast fare, such as toast and jam, a yogurt parfait or baked goods that include a slice of quiche or a cinnamon pistachio roll. Lunch, too, is fresh and light, and for dinner they’ll be firing up the brick oven to make pizza. Three Crowns Coffee, located in an old gas station, specializes in ramen.

Another possibility for lunch or dinner is Oak and Alley. All they serve here is burgers, but you’ll still have a hard time trying to figure out what to have. “The Republic” comes with barbecue sauce and caramelized onions, bacon, cheddar, arugula and avocado. “The Seoul” comes with pickled vegetables and umami sauce, and so it goes through a menu that also includes vegetarian options. Their creative side dishes include Nashville hot fries, poutine and PBJ fries with a peanut butter, Fernet-Branca and plum reduction.

What’s your pleasure for dinner? Downtown Eatery and Spirits offers gourmet sandwiches and burgers along with seafood and ribs. For Asian food try Cerulean, with a menu that runs from sushi and miso soup to burgers. Small plates include a balsamic pork tenderloin with strawberries and spiced peanuts and spicy citrus barbecued shrimp. One Ten Craft Meatery specializes in meat but offers much more. Choose from a charcuterie block, shrimp carbonara, Cajun penne, street corn and much more to accompany your chops, steak and chicken.

Rest up

Check in for the night at one of several offbeat lodgings that promise to make your stay here even more memorable. The Guest House on Terrace, located near the Village, welcomes you with spacious, well-appointed rooms as well as lake views. You’ll be close to trails here, so it’s a good place to stay if you’ve brought your bike.

Just up the hill from the Village is the Chestnut House Bed and Breakfast, a 1906 Princess Anne-style house where you can relax in one of four “gently elegant” suites and enjoy a jet bathtub and legendary made-to-order breakfasts. The Blue Heron Guest House is so named because blue herons come here to feed. You’ll be right on the shore of Winona Lake in luxurious rooms with European appointments.

For views of Lake Wawasee, Indiana’s largest natural lake, bed down at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse. Stay in one of a variety of bright, crisp rooms and enjoy the casually elegant restaurant with an extensive menu as well as a coffee shop where the mainstays are Starbucks coffee and ice cream. Borrow one of their bicycles now, then come back next summer and use their kayaks.

Rob Parker, president and CEO of the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw, believes you’ll find plenty of reasons to make you glad you came to his part of the state at this time of year.

“Kosciusko’s attributes are second to none for a community even double our size,” he says. “We have something for everyone to experience and enjoy, but the best part of our community is our people. I’m so lucky and proud this is my hometown.”