This is a great time of year for a hike.
Madison has lots of challenging hiking trails, but if you’re looking for an easy walk that allows you to admire the fall foliage, consider Johnson Lake Park on Cragmont Street.
Johnson Lake is a 13-acre park maintained by the city of Madison. The small fishing lake is circumscribed by a level, graveled walking loop just four-tenths of a mile in length. This path allows you to view the lovely little lake from all angles.
And speaking of angling, the lake is stocked with both catfish or wide-mouthed bass. Fishing is encouraged.
Johnson Lake is truly a park for all seasons. The tree-lined bank is glorious in autumn. In winter you’ll see water fowl such as geese and egrets. In spring you’re likely to see parents and grandparents out with their kids, possibly with kites. Runners, bicyclists, walkers and dog-walkers use it year-round.
The lake is part of Madison’s storied railroad history. From the far side of the Johnson Lake hiking trail, you’ll see the oldest section of Indiana’s first railroad. (The track itself has been replaced, of course.) The first stretch of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad – from North Madison toNorth Vernon — was started in 1837.
North Madison was an important maintenance center for the railroad. From the vantage point of Johnson Lake, you can see the location of the now-demolished roundhouse, currently the site of the Meese-Orbitron plastics factory. Johnson Lake itself was used for refilling the water tanks of the steam locomotives, which traveled along the newly laid track at the amazing speed of eight miles per hour. (Thanks to Madison historians Camille Fife, Ron Grimes and Mike Moore for the railroad history.)
Today the city maintains Johnson Lake for leisure pursuits. Plans are afoot to add a parcourse fitness trail at the park. If that happens,Johnson Lake may not remain a well-kept secret for long.