Lakes Fest moves to Memorial Day weekend

For the first time in its history, the Northern Indiana Lakes Festival will be during Memorial Day weekend, Friday to Sunday.

Admission to the event is free.

“The purpose is two-fold,” said Dr. Nate Bosch, director of the Lilly Center for Lakes and Streams at Grace College, earlier this month. “It’s to celebrate our lakes, raising awareness of our lakes. And then the second thing is to learn together how we can better take care of the lakes.”

An economic impact study on the lakes done by the Lilly Center conservatively estimated the total value of Kosciusko County lakes at approximately $313 million annually, he said. With more than 100 lakes in the county, local water resources boost the Syracuse, North Webster and Warsaw economies and those of many neighboring communities.

“The lakes are a huge economic driver in our community,” Bosch said. “… The festival helps folks get the resources they need and the information they need to better take care of the lakes.”

Memorial Day Weekend

This year’s Lakes Festival is 2-1/2 weeks earlier than last year. “We’re hoping to capitalize on (Memorial Day) being the unofficial start of lake season, that there’ll be people who will be taking advantage of a four-day weekend,” Lilly Center for Lakes and Streams Event Coordinator Dugan Julian told the Parks and Recreation Board in April.

Madisson Heinl, communications specialist for Lilly Center, said the Center hopes the Lakes Festival becomes a Memorial Day weekend tradition.

“We’re hoping that is a tradition going forward for people to put on their calendars for Memorial Day weekend and bring their families out, so everyone knows the Lakes Festival is Memorial Day weekend every year and they don’t have to kind of guess on their calendar when we’re going to schedule it,” she said.


The Lakes Festival started in 2009 with around 1,000 attendees and grew to 6,000 in 2016, Heinl said. Organizers are anticipating a similar attendance this year, if not more.

“We’ve done it in several locations,” she said, “but we started doing it just at Center Lake last year and we really liked having a central location and easily communicating where it was and doing it in one weekend.”

Education booths by several county lake associations will help spotlight other lakes during the festival, Julian said.

“They set up information booths highlighting various aspects of lake stewardship and then bringing their specific flavor for whatever lake they’re associated with to the festival,” Dugan said.

New Events

The big, new event this year is the Great American Lumberjack Show and Camp from Wisconsin.

Julian said they’re putting on three lumberjack shows Saturday and a camp for attendees to participate in some events. The shows will include log-rolling on Center Lake and a boom run in which logs are lined up on the water and competitors try to run across them without falling. Times are 11 to 11:30 a.m., 12:30 to 1 p.m., 2 to 2:30 p.m. and 3 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Another new event for 2017 will be the Memorial Day ceremony from 2 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The Warsaw Community High School Junior ROTC will perform a flag ceremony with taps.

“We’re going to stop all activities at the festival for 15 to 30 minutes to properly observe the significance of that weekend, why it happens and to make sure we’re paying proper respect to it,” Julian said.

Fireworks & Concerts

The fireworks presented by Zimmer Biomet over Center Lake were such a big hit in 2016 that they’re returning for this year’s festival Saturday. In case of inclement weather, the fireworks will be moved to Sunday.

Heinl said another cool thing this year is that there will be two evening concerts instead of one. While steel drum band Island Breeze is returning to the festival to play on Saturday from 6 p.m. to dusk, Jimmy Buffett tribute band Parrots of the Caribbean starts at 7 p.m. Friday, concluding at about 9 p.m.

The Lilly Center partnered with Warsaw Parks and Recreation to have Friday and Saturday night concerts, she said.

Family Friendly

The festival is oriented toward families. Activities for kids will include Art Around the Lakes craft stations, Kayaks for Kids, bounce houses and a petting farm.

“Each of those events is crafted so that kids are being educated about lakes and streams and taking care of local waterways without them realizing it,” Heinl said.

Adults can participate in the Paddle Wars, she said.

Julian was attempting to get a team from the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory to take on a Warsaw Police Department team, and Army and Marine Corps teams to compete. Paddles for Conservation helps host the tug-of-war event in kayaks. The event is 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

The 5,000-gallon fish tank will be back this year with demonstrations. It was last at the festival in 2015.

Julian said Hawg Trough, the largest distributor of pro-sized tanks in the country, sets up a 5,000-gallon tank stocked with bass, bluegill, catfish and crappie. “They have guys come out and do demonstrations. It’s on the back of a truck, and you’ll able to see fish and how they behave in the water, how a lure might work. It’s a very rare chance to see what’s going on below the surface of the lake when you’re fishing or recreating, to see how the fish behave,” he said.

The fish tank opens at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Julian said the festival is trying to reach more kids in seventh to 12th grades with a kayak race for that demographic. The youth will compete in a small-circuit race on Center Lake. with prizes to be awarded.

Activities Galore

Teaming up with the YMCA, the festival will have a spike ball tournament on the sand to try to encourage the older teen and early 20s crowds to come out. Spike ball involves a yellow ball and a trampoline with two-person teams.

For those students artistically inclined, the Lakes and Streams art competition is back. All the winners of the art contest will be honored at an awards ceremony Sunday, Heinl said, with their work on display during the festival.

A live animal show by Indiana WILD is planned for Saturday and Sunday. Showtimes are noon to 1, 2 to 3 and 5 to 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 2 p.m. Sunday. Julian said they have lemurs, armadillos, hedgehogs, a handful of exotic birds, reptiles and snakes.

The information booth will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, and Julian said “more food vendors than ever” will be open from 5 to 9:30 p.m.

Saturday’s activities being at 9 a.m. with a rain barrel workshop. Pre-registration is $20 and the cost includes all materials. Participants will be able to take their barrel home, but space is limited.

Food and retail vendors open at 11 a.m.

From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., there will be craft activities. The bounce houses are open from 11 a.m. to dusk.

A fishing basics workshop is from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Face painting will be available from 1 to 4 p.m.

On the final day, Sunday, the lake education booths open at noon until 4 p.m., with food and retail vendors open from noon to 4:30 p.m.

Craft activities will go from noon to 4:30 p.m., the same time the bounce houses will be open.

All activities are subject to change. A list of activities can be found on the Lakes Festival website at

This year’s top sponsors include Kosciusko County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission, Toyota, Zimmer Biomet, DePuy Synthes, Silveus Insurance Group, Louis Dreyfus Commodities and Maple Leaf Farms.