Potawatomie Wildlife Park


At the Potawatomie Wildlife Park, a small not-for-profit natural sanctuary for plants and animals in northern Indiana, the bells and whistles of a larger park are gladly traded for the peace and serenity of nature.

From the woodlands, wetlands, ponds, and prairie, visitors might spot a deer, small animals like the river otter, or a box turtle, as well as summer wildflowers and birds of all kinds, including osprey and bald eagles. But what is more obscure is the largest population of the federally endangered clubshell mussel, imperiled by habitat destruction but at home in this stretch of the Tippecanoe River, one of the nation’s most biologically diverse rivers that borders the park.

“What this park has to offer is a chance for people to see nature in a variety of forms,’’ says Mike Stephan, executive director and the only park employee. “It’s important for us to offer a nice diversity where we can educate the kids about nature and about the history of the area. People don’t come here to see other people. They come to be out in nature.”

Originally the home of the Potawatomie tribe, the 317-acre park was developed in the late 1970s and early ‘80s on 151 acres of farmland left at the bequest of a local farmer who envisioned a place like this. Representatives from three Indiana Lions clubs, the Etna Green Lions, the Bourbon Lions, and the Mentone Lions, with two Kiwanis clubs, formed the board that owns and manages the foundation’s not-for-profit park.

Over the years the park has grown as more land has been donated, gazebos have been built, a historic cabin has been reconstructed, and trails added.

As an extra charm, Potawatomi Wildlife Park is far enough away from city lights and street lights to eliminate light pollution, and a concentrated effort has been made to keep park lighting to a minimum to create an observing area for celestial sights that is 100 percent free of all outside lighting. The park is recognized and managed as Indiana’s first "Dark Sky Preserve,” frequented by astronomical societies, schools, and individuals hoping to see another natural wonder.