Beautiful Spring Mill State Park offers visitors many things to do and it does not all involve nature trails and playgrounds. Located in Mitchell, Indiana, Spring Mill State Park contains a pioneer village, caves, and a Gus Grissom Memorial as well as the many hiking trails and picnic areas. There is plenty to keep a family busy for the day at Spring Mill State Park even if the entire family has different interests.
As soon as you enter the park, you will find a real interesting memorial to the late astronaut, Virgil “Gus” Grissom. Grissom was a local boy in Mitchell who went on to be a well known astronaut who was killed during testing in the early space exploration missions. In this exhibit, visitors will be able to see a short film on Gus and his life and work with NASA. The museum houses many medals and personal items belonging to Grissom as well as family photos and high school memorabilia. It also houses the Gemini III capsule and spacesuit that Grissom was famous for taking into space. Anybody interested in space or the history of the NASA program would greatly enjoy this exhibit. Children will find the interactive exhibits of great interest. There are replicas of the first NASA capsules that went into space, which is a plus for all history and science buffs.
Another interesting part of the park is the Pioneer Village that is housed near the center of the park. This pioneer village has a large water-powered grist mill that the park uses to still produce corn mill that can be purchased daily at the mill. The grist mill was constructed in 1817 and the village was almost completely restored in the late 1920’s and 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Visitors are welcome to walk through the village at their own pace and spend as much time in each building as they would like. The pioneer village gives visitors a fabulous opportunity to step back into time and see how life was lived in a different era. Including the mill, there are 19 buildings within the village and offers a look at many types of businesses that was in a village at that time. There is a school, mill office, garden house with a live garden that is tended nicely, mercantile (with many types of products available for sale), residences, spring house, carriage house, blacksmith shop, meeting house, saw mill, apothecary shop, distillery, tavern,pottery shop, leather shop, Granny White’s house, and a weaver’s shop. This part of the park will take a good two hours to look at thoroughly at a normal pace. My kids and I have spent the entire day in this section of the park.
There are three nature preserves inside the park: Donaldson Cave, Donaldson Woods, and Mitchell Karst Plain, George Donaldson, a native Scotsman, came to the area in 1865 and bought a forest tract that he did not allow timber to be cut off of or hunting to be done from. Thanks to his efforts to protect the natural land there are trees native to Indiana that date at 300 years old on the land.
Donaldson Cave is also a valuable asset to the park due to the natural ecosystem that thrives in it. The cave is home to blind cave fish, which are an endangered species. It is one of the few caves that house these fish in the country. Other wildlife are abundant within the park. You could see coyotes, white-tailed deer,raccoons, foxes, skunks, wild turkeys and several other animals roaming in the wild inside the park.
There are four other caves inside the park. Hamner Cave, which is just a short walk from the grist mill and Bronson Cave, which is located on trail 3. Both of these are nice caves to see. There are also a set of caves known as Twin Caves that is located on trail 3. This year these caves are closed due to the White Nose Syndrome that is affecting bats in other parts of the United States and that Indiana is trying to keep from infecting the caves here.
If you are looking at hiking trails there are quite a few to keep you busy. There are 8 trails inside the park which range from easy to rugged and range in length of .375 miles to a long rugged 2.5 miles. Each of these trails offer a unique look at the park. The longest trail is a long loop trail which passes the Donaldson Cave overlook, passes through dense woods, to Bronson Cave , through the Donaldson Woods Nature Preserve and back to the Donaldson Picnic area.
If you are interested in bike trails, the park offers one of them too. The bike trail is a 2 mile trail that begins near the camp store. Bike rental is available and bicycles are only permitted on paved roadways or the trail. There is no skateboarding or in line skating available.
Other activities that you may take part in are boating on the lake with a private boat, camping, Twin Cave Boat Tours, fishing, and of course the nature center always has programs available. If you prefer to stay at the park, there is a beautiful inn that is open year round. The dining room is open to all park visitors and offers a complete menu for each meal. It is a nice place to sit down and enjoy a meal and there is a nice gift shop located inside the inn .
As you can tell, there is definitely more to the park than a place to picnic and play on the playgrounds. A family with different interests should be able to enjoy the park and find something that they are interesting in doing while here. It is definitely worth the trip to this park.