Muscatatuck is Seymour’s convenient outdoor playground

The sun shimmered over Lake Stanfield, creating the type of surface appearance often called diamonds, as canoes, kayaks and small boats skimmed the water with fishing rods dangling to the side.

On a summer Sunday morning as cool as one could wish, the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge attracted anglers who preferred to fish for bluegill and crappie than spend overtime under the covers.

No one was more enthusiastic than the three-generation Elders, who brought out enough bluegill to eat all winter long if they didn’t cook it in a fish fry.

Troy Sage, who, 54, has fished in Muscatatuck for 40 years, or since growing up on the outskirts of the refuge, his son Chris from Scottsburg, and his own son, Trenton, 12, loaded containers filleted fish in their van next to the canoes.

Having dinner?

“We hope,” said Troy, who now lives in North Vernon but hasn’t let moving a few miles away stop him from sharing the productive water with his family. “We come every weekend.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service property is Seymour’s outdoor playground, its nearly 7,800 secluded acres just minutes from traffic and businesses, while offering serene escapes for those who wish to retreat to nature for the fishing, hunting, hiking, bird watching, outdoor photography. , cycling or simply breathing fresh air.

The land and water terrain is varied enough and accessible enough that around 170,000 people visit it each year. They can even just park the car and walk around.

“Almost the entire shelter is open to people on foot,” said Park Ranger Donna Stanley.

Beginnings

Muscatatuck is a Native American word translated into English as “land of winding waters.” In addition to the refuge, there is Muscatatuck Park in North Vernon, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, as well as the Muscatatuck River. The 53.7-mile-long body of water is a tributary of the White River and forms much of Jackson County’s southern boundary with Scott and Washington counties.

The sanctuary itself, established in 1966, was founded to provide resting and feeding areas for waterfowl during migration. Funding came from the sale of federal migratory waterfowl stamps, also known as duck stamps.

Birdwatching is a popular activity at the refuge. On the same day, fishermen were out early, as were bird watchers, some hoping to add to their life list.

The visitor center, which only reopened earlier this summer after two years of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, includes a bird room. Individuals can sit in the semi-darkened room gazing through a bay window as birds, such as the cardinal, Indiana state bird, starlings and robins, descend swoop and eat bird feeders. Beneath them could gather a squadron of squirrels hoping to feast on the scraps of food that fell to the ground.

Stanley said the bird room gives people in wheelchairs the chance to watch birds without facing the trails. A Fish and Wildlife website indicates that 290 species of birds have been sighted in Muscatatuck.

The peak of songbird migration is in May, and on the annual Christmas Bird Count day, far fewer types are noted.

“There’s a different cast of characters in Winter,” Stanley said.

A few days before the angler’s infusion, Nathan Barlow, originally from Seymour but currently living in southern Illinois, stopped on one of his own regular migrations to photograph birds and butterflies.

“It’s a hobby,” said Barlow, who plans to return to Seymour. “I try to stop here when I can.”

The same goes for Dan Kaiser, a wildlife photographer from Columbus, three or four days a week, sometimes accompanying his wife as she seeks new bird sightings or sometimes just to train his long camera lens to a place where he thinks a relatively rare bird may appear. .

Muscatatuck is open to the public seven days a week with entry through an electronically controlled gate from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunrise. Start calls to birdwatchers early, some of which came out at 8:30 a.m.

“In the beginning, the wildlife is more active,” Kaiser said.

Muscatatuck is densely populated with wildlife, but animals can stay well hidden in the woods from prying human eyes or anyone who tries to get too close.

Animals roaming the grounds include deer, raccoons, muskrats, turkeys, bobcats, coyotes and river otters. Otters were reintroduced from Louisiana in 1995. It is permitted to pick mushrooms, fruits or berries in Muscatatuck, but only for personal consumption and not for sale.

Muscatatuck includes several hiking trails, many of which are short and of limited difficulty, such as the Chestnut Ridge Trail, the Wood Duck Trail, and the Turkey Trail.

Recently, friends Davida Pranger from Brownstown and Julie Bilz from Columbus made the sudden decision to hike Muscatatuck. The sun was bright and the temperature barely hit 70 degrees, so the circumstances were attractive.

They set up a meeting for 10am and started what they planned to be about 4-5 miles of hiking with a short hike to Discovery Pond. The pond, near the entrance to the refuge, is a children’s fishery, designed to attract them to the sport, even if no one was present this morning.

Hikers walked and talked, gazed at the scenery, noted the wildflowers, and admired the overall beauty of the refuge.

“I’ve never been here before,” Bilz said. “It’s a hidden gem. I just woke up, looked outside and thought, ‘I have to get out.’

Pranger, who recently visited Montana and explored the wilderness of the West, was eagerly on board.

“I didn’t hesitate,” she said. “I love wilderness. It’s just the beauty of nature and what God created.

The fishing was good

Scipio’s Jerry Foster was out on Lake Stanfield in his kayak for about an hour and a half and caught two bass remarkably large enough to photograph. He cut his morning short after his wife called and asked him to deliver breakfast from nearby Cracker Barrel.

Foster, who fished Muscatatuck for 35 years, said the catch “had a good day. It’s just relaxing, nice and quiet.

Fishermen could see themselves paddling in canoes or kayaks, or in small craft, but did not straddle territories.

Commiskey’s Colton Patrick has found plenty of room to combine paddling and fishing in his new kayak.

Patrick, 24, is a hunter but has never really fished. He started two new sports simultaneously. It was his third time kayaking with a fishing rod, and he still has the hang of it, but he’s having fun. Since he didn’t catch any fish, Patrick called his trip a “duck-watching.”

Seymour’s Jose Perez and a friend started later in the morning than many, launching from a wooden fishing pier near the boat launch at Stanfield. They may not have been early risers, but they brought their own verses. For bait.

“My wife told me she wanted to eat fish for dinner,” Perez said.

It took Perez a little while to get his first bite, and when he brought back a bluegill, it was so small it looked like a goldfish. Not even an appetizer. He released it, but within half an hour his count was increasing. Perez had four bluegills for the road – and the dinner plate.

Harold B. McConnell