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September 24, 2015 • Headline News
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Hassmer bike fest shows off park’s beauty

Mary Mattingly

The secret is out: Not only is Versailles State Park a beautiful state park, it is fast becoming a mountain biking haven.

Mountain biker Tim Weber of Aurora knows and gushes about the park’s natural beauty. “There are trail systems that are longer and more technical, but what we have here, the views , the vistas are spectacular. There is no trail system I have been on that has what we have here. People come here and they can’t believe we are in southeastern Indiana!” Weber said. An experienced biker, it reminds him of the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. “The thing is when you have moving water like we do, and the roll of the land, and then the seasonal change is so dramatic that the trail changes. The views and vistas are ever changing so it seems like a different trail,” and never routine, Weber said.

Brad Walker and Tim Weber - proposed bike trails at Versailles State ParkMARY MATTINGLY PHOTO
Brad Walker, left, and Tim Weber show the proposed expanded bike trails at the Versailles State Park. The 2nd annual Hassmer Fest is this weekend at the park.

A lot of people are going to discover that this weekend when the 2nd annual Hassmer Fest gets underway at the park — yes, there is another festival besides the Pumpkin Show going on in Versailles — and many of the bicycling enthusiasts also visit the pumpkin scene at the courthouse. The festival celebrates the park’s old and newest trails, and is also the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association’s only fundraiser. Proceeds go to build the trails, providing dirt, and their goal, to buy a machine that would greatly help with building the trails.

Trails were developed 11 years ago. Currently, there are 16 miles, but a new trail has been added, and another 17 miles are in the works. The new accessibility trail is even for the seeing impaired with braille signs and ropes for guidance. It’s gravel based but perfect for a wheelchair or strollers to cruise on, according to Brad Walker, asst. park manager and a mountain biker himself. “This is unique. Not many trails are like this in the system. It’s more imaginative and it will take them through the woods, by the wildflowers, along the Laughery Valley.”

Besides a myriad of trails, the Hassmer Fest offers a different kind of atmosphere for bikers, friends and family. There is no organized bike race; you ride when you want, any time during the three day fest. That might mean by the light of the moon. With it not being competitive or a set time to bike, Weber says, “It takes the edge off “ and adds to the relaxed atmosphere. There are giant bonfires and rock music in the evening, all free, and located near Shimmerhorn shelter. Weber, who owns a bicycle shop in Aurora, describes the atmosphere as “very laid back with the coolest vibe. Friday night the participants are invited to decorate their bikes for a “bling ride” There’s also a raffle of very nice bikes and some souvenirs. The trails are one directional, so organized riders don’t have to worry about running into other bikers or walkers. People from five states have signed up to participate, many coming in RVs or bringing tents for camping. Last year they had 150 participants, and expect many more this year, capping it at 300 “so it’s not too big,” Walker said.

In the meantime, they also get to show off the state park’s budding trails, developed by a core group of volunteers from the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association. Weber and a few others from the nonprofit group have taken classes on trail building. They know it’s more than just removing some brush and stumps. There is engineering and grading involved. “You want the water to run off but not bicyclists!” Weber said. It has meant thousands of volunteer hours, particularly after the July 18 storm where they spent a month clearing 200 trees from the bike trails alone. Walker figured there may have been as many as a 1000 trees that fell, and without the park volunteers, “We’d still be cutting trees.” Walker said appreciative. They actually got a Rising Sun Regional Foundation grant which helped with designing fees to expand “It’s a lot of work,” Walker said, but addictive. Walker commented, “It’s a classic labor of love,” and Weber interjects, ”And, then you get to play in the dirt!”

The trails are 18 inches wide and the goal is to connect Versailles with Osgood with a bridge at Finks Road. They also have benches, picnic tables and interactive signs along the way planned. The connector trails have fun names, like Last Chance, after an area bar and Eagles Trace, a site to spot Eagles, and they’re open to other creative ideas as well. The two believe these trails will be the best in the Midwest. Considering the view, “It will be hard to not stop,” Weber said of bicyclists, and Walker added, “By the time you get to the top your heart is beating, but you have to stop to check the view. It’s the best south of I-70. I’m biased though, but I think it would be hard to argue with.”

History of Mt. Hassmer

A little history on the other part of the park…

Mount Hassmer at Versailles State Park is the 25th highest point in the state at 961 feet. It is named after Joseph Hassmer, a philanthropist from the early 1900s. He owned the land, which is about 3,000 acres, and when he passed away left it to the state. The Indiana Dept. Of Natural Resources built 35 buildings for a 4-H Camp, including a pool, campsite and mess hall, and had 200 or so kids visit regularly every year for some 50 years; however, it became difficult and costly to maintain so the state decided to demolish it around the mid to late 1970s, and burned it down. All that is left today are the roads, which are overgrown with vegetation, some brick walls, a cemetery and the foundations to some of the camp buildings. It’s not accessible to visitors at this point; however, “the geography is still amazing” and so are the views, according to the Asst. Park Manager Brad Walker and mountain biker Tim Weber.

The Hoosier Mountain Bike Association has worked on developing trails there for seven years. “It will double the use of park,” Walker said. The Versailles State Park is nearly 6,000 acres, but most of the park is not developed leaving trees and forest intact. That leaves a lot of potential for growth, and an attraction to nature and scenic lovers.

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