The Monument City tour at Salamonie Lake on Sunday drew far more interest than expected, with at least 850 people braving long lines of vehicles only to walk a half-mile or more to the city.
Reaction was mixed.
Current and former residents of the area – especially those who had been to the city before it was torn down and flooded in 1967 to create the Salamonie reservoir – were clearly the most interested, picturing the way the town looked when it still stood.
But those who came to look for a long-covered ghost town came away with at least some disappointment.
The drought has dropped the reservoir to unusually low levels, exposing land that is normally submerged under water – including the place where Monument City once stood.
Some people exploring the area discovered they could walk along the former citys streets. After they drew attention and more explorers, the DNR closed access, concerned that people were taking artifacts, rocks and other items from the federal property.
But to accommodate those interested, the DNR set up supervised access for last Sunday and this coming Sunday.
License plates from Michigan, California, Wisconsin and Canada could be seen.
No one expected this kind of a turnout, DNR spokesman Phil Bloom said.
Indeed, considering the town had about 20 homes when it was purposely flooded, there were more visitors to the town Sunday than the number of residents living there in its last years.
Visitors stopped by Upper Wabash Interpretive Services to hear veteran DNR staffers discuss the history of the city and the reservoir, then convoyed over to Huntington County Road 800 West, where the road ends at the lake.
Parked cars lined the road for a mile as the curious trekked back to see the ruins of a city. DNR staff used their vans and a small shuttle to carry senior citizens, people with disabilities and others who couldnt make the hike.
Well, not exactly ruins. The cement foundation and bricks from the old schoolhouse were the most visible remnants. But aside from old streets, the occasional foundation, some cement blocks and a few old tiles, the only other sign of civilization was the occasional beer can – which may have been left more recently by boaters.
But the area was interesting to examine, if only to see the plants and rocks that lie under the lakes surface much of the year, and the sometimes-eerie sights of the lake at such a low level during mid-summer.
Some area residents knew something that many of Sundays visitors did not: The area is also accessible during winter months, when the reservoir is purposely lowered.
But then it is sometimes covered with snow, and it isnt nearly as nice in December as it was in the heat of Sunday evening.