Wednesday, February 22, 2012

East Fork White River

The Heart of Lawrence County

                                                 By Steve Chafin, Environmental Scientist

Spring Mill Park is situated in Lawrence County, the heart of Indiana’s River country.  Major streams near Spring Mill State Park include the East Fork White River and its major tributaries the Muskatatuck River, Salt Creek, Leatherwood Creek, and Indian Creek.  Each of these streams has its own unique character and played an important role in area history, and culture.  Today, they are fantastic environmental and recreation resources for outdoor adventure. 

Lawrence County was formed in 1818. It was named for Capt. James Lawrence, who uttered the famous words "don't give up the ship" after being mortally wounded during the War of 1812 in New Orleans (a war very important to early Hoosiers for commerce).  The original Lawrence County seat was in Palestine, 4 miles south of Bedford along the White River. Bedford became the county seat since its founding in 1825.  The original location of Palestine was deemed unhealthy because of malaria caused by mosquitoes.

The East Fork of White River was vital for the commercial transportation of Hoosier products to markets in the pioneer days.  Just eight (8) minutes, by car, from the park entrance, is the Lawrenceport Public Access Site, where today, there is a parking lot and launch ramp to access the river in varying water conditions.  In the past, Lawrenceport was strategic for area farmers and timber producers to transport their products down river all the way to New Orleans, from where they were loaded on ships and sent to Europe, and elsewhere. 

Historically important towns or the remnants thereof, lie along the river as one travels downstream through Lawrence County.  The river port towns of Fort Ritner, Bono, Tunnelton, Lawrenceport, Rivervale, Palestine, Bedford, and Williams all played important roles in the history of Lawrence County

The major products shipped out of Lawrence County were timber for ship building for the powerful European navies, oak staves for coopers making wine barrels in France, as well as pork, game meat, and ground grains (corn and wheat) to feed Europeans, and Americans on the east coast of the US

While the Spring Mill Pioneer Village grist mill is still intact, others were located on the White River in nearby Lawrenceport and Williams (still functional today).  At Lawrenceport was a large mill.  History recounts that the owner of the Lawrenceport mill kept raising the dam elevation across the river to make his mill more efficient in low water conditions.  This resulted in increased flooding of upstream farm lands in the valley.  When upstream farmers expressed their concerns, about flooding, the mill owner maintained his right to dam the river however he wished.  Shortly thereafter, the farmers burned down his mill and destroyed the dam.  The dam and mill were never rebuilt, however, the structural remnants of the dam are still are visible today below the river. 

Today, the East Fork of White River is a fantastic recreation and biological resource.  The EFWR had very high biodiversity including freshwater mussels, crawfishes, game and non-game fish species including the endangered lake sturgeon, eels, mudpuppies, spotted bass, crappie, bluegill, white drum, white bass, sauger, vary large catfish, and more.   The river always has plenty of water so paddlers never have to drag their boats.  Current flows are rated from fun to exciting (although there are no rapids), and white sandbars for taking a break, picnicking, or camping are plentiful. 

Figure 3 East Fork White River and Sandbar

The trees and wetlands along the river are home to wood ducks, kingfishers, blue herons, green herons, bald eagles, and ospreys.  On most trips down the river paddlers are treated to viewing unsuspecting deer, raccoons, beavers, and even river otters.  River otters were released by the IDNR on the Muskatatuck River, a tributary to the White upstream in Washington and Jennings Counties.  The otters have since been seen along the EFWR in Lawrence County

To explore the White River, other areas streams, or to paddle around Spring Mill Lake, contact Most High Adventure Outfitters (MHAO).   MHAO is located just ½ mile west of the Spring Mill Park Entrance, on St. Rd. 60 East (Mitchell).  MHAO provides canoes and kayaks for a relaxing float down the White River and Salt Creek.  Most High Adventure Outfitters also provides guided tours of the White River which point out unique historical, cultural, and geologic features of the River.   The river trips last from 3 hours to 7 hours duration, with overnight camping on sandbars available. 

When the White River is too high, MHAO floats the Patoka River upstream of Patoka Lake.  Paddlers on this trip generally get to experience great fishing, swimming, camping, as well as an abundance of wildlife. 

MHAO also has mountain and trail bike rentals for area trails and shuttles for bike and river trips.  And after your trip, you can stop by the MHAO Outpost for a BBQ tenderloin sandwich, lemonade/limeade or tea, and ice cream treats. 

  Mountain Biking Young’s Creek Trail

In addition to rentals, Most High Adventure Outfitters provides geologic tours of the Lost River and tours of the Spring Mill Lake watershed.  The Lost River is Indiana’s “mystery river” alternating between being a surface stream and a subterranean stream throughout its upper course.  The watershed of Spring Mill Lake is a completely subterranean, with storm run off water entering caves via sinkholes, and running through underground streams to discharge points at the caves in Spring Mill Park.  The guided tours are performed by a local historian and an environmental scientist who has studied the subterranean system for the IDNR.  Tours are conducted from bicycles, paddle craft, and/or automobiles.  Call for reservations. 

To contact Most High Adventure Outfitters call 812-340-0700, email at, or visit their website at

While in the area, enjoy wonderful Lawrence County, “an unexpected destination”! 

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