Park Foundation Reviews Ongoing Projects

Syracuse Park Foundation reviewed several ongoing projects during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening.

Mike Buhrt, chairman of the Syracuse-Wawasee Trail Committee, reported committee member Bob Trame is meeting with Larry Mock about using his equipment and labor for trail maintenance. Committee member Jerry Wright reported the Syracuse Lions is also helping with trail maintenance.

A contract will be signed with Thompson Concrete to complete the Syracuse Lake Trail. Residents along Northshore and Eastshore drives are still being informed about the work being completed this spring.

Marsha Carey, the committee’s grant writer, is working on a grant for the SR 13 section of trail. A presentation is being set up for the March 25 county commissioners meeting in seeking a federal grant. If awarded, the grant will be an 80-20 split and the county commissioners will need assurances from the trail committee it can raise the 20 percent.

The county would have to be the signatory on the grant. Buhrt noted this is a large grant and it would take a few years before it is implemented, giving the trail committee ample time to raise its portion.

Information on the Vawter Park trail section has been collected and is being analyzed. The committee is also working on more detailed plans for trails around the fish hatchery.

Chad Jonsson, park superintendent and executive director of the Syracuse Park Foundation, reported the Harold Shrock Youth Athletic Complex is second on Middlebury Electric’s spring projects list. Middlebury Electric hopes to get the light poles for the complex installed while the ground is still frozen, but needs a few nice days to do the work.

Work is continuing on parking lot improvement as well as completing the walking path around the fields. It is also hoped bleachers will be purchased and set up in the near future.

Syracuse Trail Project Begins Route Planning

As the Syracuse-Wawasee Trail Committee continues to move forward with a plan to create bicycle/pedestrian paths through the lake community, the committee recognizes the need for a grant writer.

Mike Buhrt, chairman of SWTC, told the Syracuse Park Foundation at a meeting this week, that the trail committee currently does not have a lot of money, so the plan is to spend some time getting organized and doing some fundraising. Another matter that will be discussed at the next trail committee meeting will be a proposal from a grant writer.

Dr. Tom Edington, president of the park foundation board and superintendent of Wawasee Community Schools, suggested that the trail committee consider applying for a Safe Route to Schools grant through the Indiana Department of Transportation. A $25,000 planning grant is available. If awarded, the school and trail committee would work with Michiana Area Council of Governments on potential routes.

After the planning grant, a $250,000 implementation grant would be available. Buhrt and Edington discussed the idea of applying for the SR 13 section of the trail down around Wawasee Middle School.

It was also noted that the Tour des Lakes will be held July 13. It is a chamber event and a representative of the trail committee will be joining the planning committee for the Tour des Lakes, which hosts multiple bike rides through the area. Volunteers are needed to help out on July 13. For more information check out the event’s website,

In other matters, Syracuse Park Superintendent Chad Jonsson reported on progress for the Harold Schrock Athletic Complex. The concession stands and restrooms have been completed, water has been turned on and concrete pads for the bleachers and dug outs have been poured. Teams are already using the fields for practice and Jonsson expects some games to be played there yet this spring.

Donn Baird, park foundation treasurer, asked about drainage with all the rain the area has received in recent weeks. Jonsson said things were going well until last Friday when the fields were a bit damp.

Arbor Day will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at the athletic complex. Funds are still being raised for bleachers and for a matching grant for lights. It’s hoped enough will be raised so lights can be installed in the fall.

Wawasee Triathlon Heading Into Sixth Run

The Wawasee Kiwanis will host its sixth annual Wawasee Triathlon this August 10 at Lakeside Park in downtown Syracuse.

The Kiwanis are taking registrations for up to 300 participants for the triathlon and also a duathlon. Anyone interested in participating in the events are required to be at least 15 years of age, whether running solo or with a team.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the charitable activities of the Kiwanis Club in the greater Syracuse area.

The event is sanctioned by USA Triathlon and has divisions based on age and gender, plus team categories. Levels of entry fees are being used for participation, based on USAT and non-USAT membership as well as if registration is done before August 1.

The triathlon itself will consist of a swim out and back from Lakeside Park beach in Syracuse Lake; a 13.25-mile bike ride from the staging area at the Syracuse Community Center to Milford and back; and finally a 3.3-mile run north and around Maxwelton Golf Club and back to the park.

Awards will be presented to the overall male and female winners, plus winners in each age category. Local merchants and sponsors are donating prizes throughout the event.

The event is free for spectators to watch along roadsides at any point of the course.

For more information or to register, visit, or contact race chairperson Tami Vandal at

Chautauqua-Wawasee hosts Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Experience and“Hope Floats” Cardboard Boat Regatta at the Oakwood Resort

Chautauqua-Wawasee is proud to present an exciting 2013 programming season. The season kicks-off with a two-day programming extravaganza beginning with a Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Experience that will feature the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Harrison String Quintet on Friday, May 31st and the “Hope Floats” Cardboard Boat Regatta on June 1, 2013.

The Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Experience will be held at the new Oakwood Resort on Friday, May 31st from 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.  Experience wine samplings, delectable chocolates and artisan cheeses from Chalet Party Shop, Belmont Beverage, DeBrand Chocolates, Swissland Cheese and more!  Experience scrumptious appetizers prepared by Chef Matt Hawkey with Grill N Grate BBQ. In addition, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Harrison String Quintet will take you from Bach to Rock as they play the music of Bach, The Beatles, Dave Brubeck, Mozart and more! This exquisite evening will also be the “launch” to Saturday’s Cardboard Boat Regatta. Limited tickets are available and must be purchased in advance.

On Saturday, June 1, 2013, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the shores of Lake Wawasee at Oakwood Beach will offer quite a unique site as cardboard boats race during the Hope Floats, Cardboard Boat Regatta. Cardboard boat entries can be submitted by individuals, businesses, churches, social groups, etc. Entries receive two tickets to Wine, Cheese & Chocolate experience on Friday evening. These are life-size cardboard boats that will consist of a 1-3 person crew! Free admission for spectators and fans, just bring a lawn chair or blanket and prepare to be entertained. Fun for the whole family! Food, snacks and beverages will be available for purchase. Boat Entries are $25 and include 2 tickets to Wine, Cheese, and Chocolate event.

Tickets for the Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Experience and boat entry forms are now available at Grill N Grate BBQ, 1009 South Huntington Street, Syracuse, Indiana; Syracuse Community Center, 1013 North Long Drive, Syracuse; on-line at

Other Chautauqua-Wawasee events include Ft. Wayne Philharmonic’s Patriotic Pops Concert and Barbeque of Seville, Neighbors in our World II religious series Go – Go – Going Green Educational Series, Tour Des Lakes Cycling and much more!

Chautauqua-Wawasee is truly dedicated to our community by providing quality programming utilizing the four pillars of the Chautauqua Institution which consist of Arts, Education, Religion and Recreation. For more information on these or any of our programs visit or call Marlies at 574-518-1094.

Lake Level - More To The Story...

There seems to be many questions and concerns floating around about water levels in Syracuse Lake and Lake Wawasee. It is a pretty simple and efficient procedure to check the water levels at the Syracuse dam.

The person designated by the town to be in charge of the water level looks at the water level on the Syracuse Lake channel side of the spillway. There is a rounded cement wall that creates the spillway. If the water level is too high or above the spillway, the gate is opened to lower it. The reverse is true if it is too low. With the recent drought, the gates have been closed for quite some time.

However, lack of both snow and rain this past year have inevitably led to lower lakes and Turkey Creek water levels than have been experienced in many years. Both upstream from the lakes and downstream, Turkey Creek has very low water levels as does just about every body of water in this area.

"People who weren't here this winter, don't realize how little snow we had before we had the drought. All that makes a big difference in the water level," explained Chad Jonsson, Syracuse Parks superintendent.

According to Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation board member Doug Yoder, the WACF is looking at partnering with the town to provide the dam with a new water level gauge. The previous one had deteriorated to the point where it was no longer functioning and was removed.

Thanks to the record keeping of county and town officials, the files of The Mail-Journal and the book "Early Wawasee Days" by Eli Lilly, the dam story can be pieced together.

Kosciusko County Circuit Court ruled in 1948 the legal level of Syracuse Lake and Lake Wawasee is 858.87 feet above sea level. This was done at the request of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. What is called the Turkey Creek Memorial Dam was built in 1963 in Syracuse in honor of Col. Eli Lily and to this level. The dam that controlled the water levels earlier was a few feet in front of the current one.

It is important to note at times in its history, there has been more than one dam operating on Syracuse and Wawasee lakes. The historic Dog Leg Dam was set up by evangelist Billy Sunday's grandfather in the area near to the current Pickwick Drive bridge to trap fish before the Civil War.

According to the study being done by retired engineer Bob Eppich on Ogden Point Road, Lake Wawasee is about 14 inches below level as of July 24. "If we get an inch of rain, the level rises just about an inch," he observed. Both lakes levels have increased because of the last few rains. Originally the 1963 dam was controlled automatically but in 1992 it was converted to manual operation. This is how it currently works.
The water level at the spillway on the lake side is observed and adjusted accordingly. This allows both spillway gates to be operational, an advantage to those living on the two lakes as well as on or near Turkey Creek downstream from the structure. It is legally not a dam but a water level control structure.

In 2004 then Town Manager Brian Redshaw asked Syracuse Parks Department Maintenance Supervisor Jim Funderberg to monitor and adjust the water level. Before he took over, it was under the watchful eyes of Michael Brower. When Funderberg retired, the duty passed to Jonsson, who supervises the level now.

More To The Story
Obviously, something that affects as many people's lives as water levels of the lakes and Turkey Creek is a topic that has been fraught with controversy since the first dam was built by the European-descended pioneers in 1834. Downstream Turkey Creek runs through Milford and eventually into the Elkhart River.
According to Lilly's book, Lake Wawasee escaped draining at the end of the 1880s and again in 1893. When the Native Americans spent their time in the area, both lakes, which are really one, were considerably shallower, with many swampy areas. In the vernacular of today, that is called a wetland. There wasn't any dam.

According to several sources, the Panic of 1893 was the worst economic depression in the history of the United States up to that time and may have contributed to the 1893 revival of the struggle over the lake level. Farmers who owned these swampy acres wanted them drained to create tillable land. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Cedar Beach Club, which was made up of Wawasee cottage owners, joined together to fight the drainage. The project was defeated in the Supreme Court of Indiana.

Then, the dam's owner, B.F. Crow, died, also in 1893. His estate owned the dam and 27 acres southwest of the mill race. Wawasee folks wanted to build a dam near Oakwood Park or at the channel where the B & O bridge crosses the water. However, Col. Eli Lilly, the founder of the drug company, secured an option to purchase the dam and the acreage.

By 1895, stockholders had created the Syracuse Water Power Company. The stockholders were, again according to the later Eli Lilly, the B & O, a few citizens of Syracuse and several Wawasee cottage owners.
Most of the acquired land was laid out in town lots and gradually sold. The SWPC stockholders made 100 percent return on their investments almost annually, said Lilly in his book.

This is what Lilly had to say about the town acquiring the dam. "Syracuse became desirous of owning the dam, upon which so much of its prosperity depended; and the company, having the absolute confidence that the town would treasure the property, sold it in the late summer of 1922 for $4,000."

There may be a different version of this story. Basically, most of the lots had been sold off and the stockholders were not receiving the same amount of dividends. They approached the town to take over the dam. This rendition had not been documented at press time, but it has been repeated by more than one source.

There was plenty of controversy about the lake levels and the creek level even after the town took over the dam. Cottage owners with low-lying lots objected to high water levels while others wanted them, especially when motor boats came into fashion.

The town also had to think about its sewage disposal system and the farmers downstream, who didn't want livestock and buildings washing away. It seems the squabbling continued for the next 40 years until 1962 when a committee was formed with representatives from Syracuse, Syracuse Lake and Lake Wawasee. No mention is made of downstream Turkey Creek property owners being on this committee by Lilly.

The services of two professors at Purdue University were secured to make a study of the facts of rainfall, runoff, evaporation and other variables of the drainage area. They formed a schedule of proper seasonal runoff and plans for the new dam. The dam was built as a memorial to Col. Lilly.

Neither the Wawasee Property Owners Association nor the town of Syracuse can locate this study according to Yoder. Both were reputed to have copies of it. It would be interesting to see the Purdue study, although climate change has certainly made its findings obsolete.

While all this was going on the mill race in town was drained and filled in as part of the program causing an uproar among those who lived on or near it and enjoyed its benefits. Many remember this controversy. Dolan Drive runs where the mill race was.

The Cause Of Wawasee Low Water Level

The drought of 2012 dropped Lake Wawasee’s water level down about 18 inches from normal levels, and even dropped nearby Lake Michigan to its lowest water level in recorded history since 1918. Curiously, however, this water level drop was not seen for all of the more than 100 lakes in Kosciusko County.

Recently, there have been many questions from Wawasee and Syracuse lake residents regarding the lakes’ low water levels. Dr. Nate Bosch, director of Kosciusko Lakes and Streams, a water research center at Grace College in Winona Lake, said there are several factors that influence lake levels.

The first efforts to control lake levels on Wawasee and Syracuse began in 1833 when a grist mill was built to raise the lake level about 5 feet. Then, 1875 marked the beginning of scientific data collection on these lakes, but it wasn’t until 1943 when the data included lake levels.

Several low lake level years were recorded in the 1940s and 1950s, but were not to be seen again until 2012.

Lake Wawasee is unique compared to most other lakes in Kosciusko County, other than maybe Dewart Lake, Bosch said. That’s because it sits near a continental divide, and that it has a relatively small area of land that drains into it, called a watershed.

“This is helpful when we are worried about unwanted dirt and nutrients coming into the lake, which grow algae and weeds,” said Bosch. “But it’s harmful when we want more precipitation and ground water to come from that drainage area into the lake.”

A helpful analogy, according to Bosch, would be a house’s roof and gutter system. “A small roof area (drainage area) would be nice if you want to cut down on the amount of leaves and twigs that clog your gutters and downspouts,” said Bosch. “But, if the goal was to get lots of water through gutters from the roof, there would be a small disadvantage with that small roof.”

Lake Wawasee’s small drainage area is helpful in keeping it cleaner than most years, but in drought years it exacerbates the dry weather and makes the lake more sensitive to lower water levels.

The only influences on the water level that can be changed are irrigation usage around the lake and in the lake’s surrounding drainage area, as well as how the lake level control structure is operated throughout the year, added Bosch.

So, what made 2012 special and what caused these very low lake levels? Several factors converged, Bosch noted. Warmer than average temperatures led to more evaporation during the summer and the previous winter; normally, ice cover would stop evaporation during winter.

Also, said Bosch, lack of precipitation dried up three of the four in-flowing streams, and soils were so dry they soaked up the little precipitation that did fall.
Bosch said a lower local water table likely caused groundwater springs in lakes to reverse flow and become drains out of the lakes. Increased irrigation usage additionally led to more evaporation losses.

Wawasee and Syracuse lakes have unique characteristics that increase their potential to be susceptible to low lake levels. These characteristics include a relatively small watershed compared to lake size, a complex geology with strong connections to groundwater, and a lake level control structure, which purposefully lowers levels in the winter.