Mushrooms bountiful in Brown County

Column by Brandon Butler

There are few places in this world that mean as much to me as Brown County State Park. This is where I discovered wilderness. Where I came to long for wildness. A longing that has led me to pursue places in the void my entire life. When I was a kid growing up in northwest Indiana, where land is so flat it appears the sun falls off the edge each evening, the scenic vistas of Brown County where one can gaze over rolling hardwood hills and long mist filled valleys, were of another planet.

Sometimes, a place close to home becomes less novel because of proximity. We know it’s there and not going anywhere, so we put off visiting while thinking - soon, but then never go. Don’t let Brown County State Park and the surrounding area be one of those places. It’s one of the best state parks in all of the Midwest and it’s within a couple of hours drive of most of southern Indiana. If it’s been awhile, isn’t time for a trip back to Brown County?

Spring is roaring. Dogwoods are blooming. So are the red buds. Turkeys are gobbling, crappie are biting, and mushrooms are starting to pop. Sometimes I think about when a bear wakes up from their long, hard winter sleep. When they open their eyes for the first time, then stretch all four legs out as far as they will go. A deep yawn draws a surge of life into the blood and the bear slowly stands. It walks out of its burrow and lets the sun hit its face for the first time in months. The last week has been a long version of that moment for me.

Mushroom hunting has become something I enjoy very much. First of all, I could eat morel mushrooms until I burst. I like them fried in a light seasoning, but prefer morels simply rinsed, halved and sautéed in butter. Throw a few of those over a medium-rare venison filet paired with a nice red wine and you’ll understand why mushroom hunters take the secrets of their best spots to the grave.

Brown County just happens to be a great place to look for morel mushrooms, while offering outdoor enthusiasts numerous opportunities to explore the wild and enjoy nature. Brown County State Park and Yellowwood State Forest both offer scenic camping sites for tents and recreational vehicles. If camping isn’t for you, Abe Martin Lodge in the state park is an incredible place to stay. The fried chicken is worth the trip alone. There are also cabins for rent within the state park which is a nice middle ground between camping and staying in the lodge.

Mushroom hunting is legal in state parks and state forests, which means you can stomp tens-of-thousands of acres of prime, public ground for mushroom hunting in Brown County. Experts say there are tips and tricks for finding morels. They say to focus on elm and apple trees, to scour south facing hillsides and to spend a lot of time around moist soil. I might be the worst mushroom hunter in recorded history. I try to do what the experts say, but I rarely find mushrooms where they are supposed to be. My advice is just go for a long, slow walk in the woods and keep your eyes on the ground.

A few tools of the trade include a walking stick, a knife and a mesh bag. Don’t forget water. Walking sticks are important because they allow you to scoot leaves and brush around without having to bend down. Use a knife to cut the morels off at the stem instead of pulling them completely out of the ground. Supposedly this helps their sustainability. A mesh bag sort of works the same way. The theory is a mesh bag allows spores to fall from the mushrooms as you walk through the woods, thus spreading the bounty for future years. A good Google Earth map of the area you’re walking is a good idea too, so you can mark finds and return for years to come.

Another reason to visit Brown County this mushroom season is to attend the Brown County State Park Mushrooms and Mash Festival, May 4.

Here, you can sample morels and enjoy live music from the Indiana Boys and Grass Hound. Tickets are on sale for $5 in advance. They cost $10 the day of the event. You can purchase tickets online at browncounty.com/store or in person at the Brown County State Park office or nature center. Kids 12 and under are free. Park admission is being charged during the event. It is $7 per vehicle for in-state residents and $9 per vehicle for out-of-state residents. Or just do yourself a favor and purchase a 2019 annual state parks pass.

See you down the trail…




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