Artist Steve Perry Creates 4th Sculpture For Winona Trails

Artist Steve Perry talks about his sculpture on the Winona Lake Heritage Trail Art dedications. The sculpture is called “Native Americans” and honors the wildlife and people who first occupied the south and east shores of Winona Lake. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union

A new piece of art was installed Friday at the Winona Lake trails, making it the fourth piece that highlights Winona’s storied history.

A dedication of the sculpture, just south of Grace College’s Beta Hall along the north leg of the Heritage Trail, highlighted the story of the piece. Warsaw High School graduate and Fort Wayne resident Steve Perry is behind the design honoring the wildlife and native Americans who occupied the south and east shores of Winona Lake (then named Eagle Lake) before the arrival of the first white settler, John Hamilton, in 1836.

First the Miamis, then the Potawatomis occupied the southern and eastern shores of Winona Lake until being forcibly removed by the U.S. government in 1838.

Treaties opened the way for the first white settlers and, eventually, for the Beyer brothers to found the town in 1881, according to Rick Swaim, president of Winona Lake Town Council and chair of the Winona Art Commission.

The sculpture was sponsored by the Fred Rowland family – just as all three prior art pieces along the trail featuring Winona’s history have been sponsored by local families.

Swaim said all of the art pieces come with an $8,000 budget: $6,000 goes to the artist; $1,000 pays for a bench; and $1,000 is for the information sign about the piece.

“I appreciate all the people who have helped make this happen,” Swaim said. “This is all privately funded, which is another illustration of the quality of people who live in our community.”

The trail system in Winona Lake was created in 2007 and expanded in 2015 to include 3.5 miles of greenway and 8 to 9 miles of mountain biking trails with different skill levels. In 2009, a traffic count on the trails showed 1,700 people a week use them. Town manager Craig Allebach said that number would probably be much higher now, 11 years later, and especially during the pandemic.

In 2013, Winona Lake and Warsaw were designated Bicycle Friendly Communities. In order to be designated a bike friendly town, the town had to meet criteria when it came to safety, accessibility, engineering and how many bike lanes and miles are available. Winona Lake and Warsaw also have bicycle-friendly businesses that provide employees with amenities, like showers, lockers and bike racks, if they bike to work, Allebach said.

“We have really tried to create a destination where people can walk, run, ride their bikes, use the tennis courts, go to the splash pad, to the beach,”?Allebach said. The town is thinking about adding a bike skills park for elementary to middle school aged children in the grassy area by creek by the splash pad where youngsters can go to hone their cycling skills.

Between having the town and a volunteers of cycling group maintain the trails, and thoughtful engineering and a strong art commission, the town has accomplished a lot for the trails to become a destination. That can be seen in Winona Lake’s ranking as one of the top trail systems in the state and being listed as a premier spot to go in the Midwest.

“People come from all over the country for (cycling) events,”?Allebach said.

Keeping the trail rules in mind is important, Swaim said. Anyone is welcome to use the trail system, but when people are walking on the mountain bike trails, they need to walk the opposite way of the mountain bikers. That’s important, Swaim said, because if a mountain biker is coming around a hill at 20 mph and a person is walking or running listening to music, a serious collision could occur. There are signs, and Swaim asks people to be aware of those.

A map of the trails is available on Winona Lake’s website: under the Parks Department section.

Friday’s newest sculpture was preceded by three others. “Contemplative Seasons,” the first of the three, was dedicated in May of 2019. The sculpture, consisting of three ceramic columns, a decorative bench, and a concrete pad, is located on the Greenway extension just off Pierceton Road in Winona Lake, approximately behind Grace College’s Boyer dorm and was created by local artist Andy Tomasik.

The other two include a kinetic sculpture reminiscent of “The Winona Queen,” an excursion boat that plied the waters of Winona Lake for many years, and an eternal metal flame symbolizing the ministry of the town’s most famous resident, evangelist Billy Sunday. The Sunday piece is just off Grace College’s Miller Athletic Field Complex, behind the softball field. Fort Wayne sculptor Ben Solee is the artist for these two pieces.

The Winona Art Commission consists of Swaim, Joy Lohse, Al Disbro, Retha Hicks and Terry White.

“It’s a tremendous asset,” Swaim said. “People come here from far away to ride those trails. The art makes it an even more unique place than it already is.”