The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Hamilton County Parks and Recreation staff plays host to an opening ceremony on Thursday, which had county staff and dignitaries and volunteers and trade partners, with rods and reels in hands, casting the first fishing lines, into the new Koteewi Lake at Strawtown Koteewi Park in Noblesville.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Hamilton County Parks and Recreation staff plays host to an opening ceremony on Thursday, which had county staff and dignitaries and volunteers and trade partners, with rods and reels in hands, casting the first fishing lines, into the new Koteewi Lake at Strawtown Koteewi Park in Noblesville.
There’s a new place in Hamilton County for the community to make memories.
Koteewi Lake at Strawtown Koteewi Park in Noblesville opens today to the public.
Hamilton County Parks and Recreation staff played host to an opening ceremony on Thursday that saw county staff and dignitaries and volunteers and trade partners, with rods and reels in hands, casting out the first fishing lines into the new recreational lake.
Hamilton County Parks and Recreation’s new executive director Chris Stice stood inside a pop-up tent just yards away from Koteewi Park’s new canoe and kayak launch area and picnic shelter at the edge of the newly opened 19-acre Koteewi Lake, accessible from Strawtown Avenue across the road and just west of Strawtown Koteewi Park’s Taylor Center of Natural History. The 750-acre park, Hamilton County’s largest park, borders 3.2 miles of the White River and has more than 100 acres of wetlands.
“Our responsibility to our community is connecting our community to nature here in Hamilton County Parks Department. This recreational lake provides a unique opportunity for our people to come out here and connect in nature in a much different way than they’re typically used to in a suburban setting,” said Stice, who has worked for the Parks Department for 25 years.
The park land was purchased in 1999 from local resident Dan Taylor, who had owned the land since 1939 and for whom the park’s Taylor Center of Natural History was named and opened in 2005. That same year, the Parks Department started the designs for the lake. Jeff Mader, who was in attendance, served as the lead landscape architect for the master plan and Phase I of the park.
The Parks Department entered into a partnership with Beaver Materials in Noblesville to dig the lake and mine the gravel, also in 2005. “We’re thankful for that partnership,” Stice said. “That partnership alone has saved an estimated $7 million to our taxpayers with this project.” In 2006, the Parks Department submitted for the permit to build the lake, and in 2007 started construction on the lake. In 2008, the economy crashed and slowed down construction. As progress continued, Beaver Materials mining’s overburden was used to create Koteewi Run Seasonal Slopes tubing hill at Koteewi Park.
One of the Parks Department’s goals is “to create places for lifelong memories to take place,” Stice said. “This truly is one of those places that will become that and has already started to become one of those special places.”
A directional sign will have gone up by now at the entrance to the lake on Strawtown Avenue that reads “Recreational Lake” with an arrow pointing toward a long gravel driveway that leads to a large parking lot where folks can launch their own kayaks and canoes for free on the lake.
Currently, 4,700 linear feet of safety fence surrounds the lake. There are four public access locations, one boat ramp and one canoe and kayak launch. The lake is up to 30 feet deep.
With the help of the Department of Natural Resources, the lake will be stocked with large-mouth bass and channel catfish. In the future, the lake could get Saugeye fish, shorebirds, sandpipers, yellow leg species and pintail. Bald eagles nest locally. Soft-shelled turtles and reptiles are also visible.
Stice said the vision for the lake is to serve as a place where parents, grandparents, and all are able to come and teach youngsters and others to fish, canoe, kayak and paddle board without the fears of being capsized by speed boats and personal watercrafts, which are not allowed on the lake.
Another addition to today’s lake opening is a new 120-acre section of the park, adding another mile and and a half of trails.
Stice thanked the lake project’s contributors, supporters and worker bees each with a commemorative wooden paddle created by the Parks Department. The paddles each read, “Koteewi Lake,” plus the grand opening date and the park logo. “We hope this represents the journey that we’ve been on,” Stice said.
Hamilton County Commissioner Steve Dillinger, the first to receive his commemorative paddle, praised the Parks Department leadership. “The instructions we gave when we first hired (the now retired first executive director) Al (Patterson) is we would like to have a park that was more than what a city could do but less than what a state park could do. I think this park epitomizes exactly that. We didn’t want a bunch of baseball fields and football fields; that was for schools. But with the horse trails, the archery and the zipline, all the things that we have going here, I think this is my favorite park of all in Hamilton County,” Dillinger said.
Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt of Westfield, who was not able to be in attendance but who came out to see the park and the lake last weekend with his father, shared his gratitude for the park with Stice.
Hamilton County Parks board president Terry Prather, who came onto the board more than 30 years ago, thanked Beaver Materials, the County Commissioners, County Council and parks staff, and also talked about the early years when the parks department was very small and before the first director was hired.
Parks board member Larry Roudebush was “passionate to create this lake,” Stice said.
“I hope everybody enjoys the lake,” Roudebush said, as he accepted his paddle. “It was quite a feat to get it done. We stretched into 10 or 12 years, and it was going to be three to five, but now it’s done. So everybody enjoy it.”
Stice praised board member Dr. Judy Campbell and husband, Bob Campbell, a part of the process for a long time. “Being out here, this is what you are about, connecting people to nature,” he said.
“With my medical background, I know how important greenspace and parks are to our overall well being,” Campbell said.” And it shows so much satisfaction to see all of the people who are coming out to use the parks, sometimes for the first time, and getting a feeling of calmness and security and well being.”
Stice thanked County Council member Steve Schwartz, owner of Schwartz’s Bait & Tackle, for his contribution to recreation in Hamilton County.
Schwartz recalled seeing the master plan many years ago thinking he would never get to experience these amenities in his lifetime. “I am so impressed,” he said, of the how the park has grown in the past 16 years that he has been on the Council.
Bruce Oldham, a former intern who returned to the parks department in 2005 and who most recently was regional parks operations manager, was named deputy director this year. He said, “I’ve had the honor to work and live on this property, developed from a farm field and agricultural area to what you see today,” he said, praising the parks staff for their dedication and hard work.
Oldham, who will be at today’s grand opening, said there would be parks staff on duty, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on site to welcome people, to hand out state fishing guides and to lead fish-related crafts with the Taylor Center of Natural.
Folks can bring their own boats, canoes and kayaks. “We’re looking into vendors, a possible partnership where some rentals will be available in the future,” Oldham said.
Rules? Trolling motors only. A fishing license is required. While the Parks Department encourages catch and release, it abides by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources fishing regulations for size and bag limits.
Stice said, “Being near water has a therapeutic benefit and it promotes happiness … When you are around bodies of water, it creates a calmness, and a peacefulness within the soul. In a sense, it helps us to all become full of life.”
Stice said this COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic has changed many of our behaviors. And while people have flocked to the outdoors, they’ve also bought up canoes and kayaks and paddle boards. “They’re hard to find. Everyone is buying them,” Stice said. “Half of those boat purchases are by new users that are trying this experience out for the first time.”
He went on to share statistics that meant even more to the Parks Department. “Fishing licenses have increased in the state of Indiana. On Google Analytics, just in Hamilton County Parks alone, based on the COVID-19 Google Mobility Report, park use in Hamilton County has increased 192 percent. It’s just amazing what is happening in our community right now.”
A lot of success at Strawtown Koteewi Park is because of partnerships. K-Trails Equestrian Adventures, Koteewi Sport & Target Archery Center and Edge Adventures Aerial Adventures and Koteewi Run Seasonal Slopes are all partners at Koteewi Park.
John Stewart, who owns and operates K-Trails Equestrian Adventures, in its fourth year at Koteewi Park, was at the lakeside ceremony on his horse, Pedro. He loves the new lake and looks forward to expanding the trail rides to include the lake next season.

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com