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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Fish & Wildlife > Wildlife Resources > Public Access Program Public Access Program

What is the Public Access Program?

The Division of Fish & Wildlife’s public access program was initiated in 1953 and strives to provide free access to Indiana waters for anglers and boaters. The program is part of a broader statewide access initiative. In addition to acquiring, developing and maintaining sites, the division works with various local, state and federal agencies to provide access to Indiana’s lakes and rivers. To date, the program has funded portions of the acquisition, development and maintenance of approximately 366 public access sites; 211 sites are located in northern Indiana and 155 in southern Indiana. The list of sites includes 115 on natural lakes; 89 on impoundments; 158 on rivers and 4 on Lake Michigan. In addition, the division operates and maintains 21 public fishing areas. Fish and Wildlife’s public access sites do not require a lake-use permit.

Funding for the Program

Funding for the public access program is derived primarily from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses and from federal aid through the Sport Fish Restoration Fund. Sport Fish Restoration funds are generated from federal excise taxes on motorboat fuel and fishing and boating equipment. These funds are then distributed to each state according to the size of the state and the number of fishing licenses sold. This is one of the most effective “user-pay, user benefit” programs in the nation where anglers and boaters provide the financial support for boating access, fisheries management and related programs. The state pays for the acquisition, development and maintenance of access sites upfront and then receives a 75% reimbursement from the federal government.

Acquiring New Sites

Much work still remains. Indiana has more than 21,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams, 452 natural lakes and 580 impoundments. Free public access is not available or is inadequate at many state-owned waters.

The goal to provide river access approximately every ten river miles is often hampered by the lack of willing sellers as well as the lack of public roads to the rivers in some rural areas.

Site selection is based on several factors: 1) the availability of land; 2) road access; 3) topography; 4) sufficient water depth; 5) the proximity to other river access sites; 6) safety; 7) environmental conditions; and 8) the cost of acquisition and construction (There is a very limited amount of funds available for this program).

Sites are purchased from willing sellers at fair market value. The Division of Fish and Wildlife also leases sites from organizations and local government agencies and accepts donations of suitable properties along lakes and streams.

Sites are developed by the Division of Fish and Wildlife using their North or South Public Access units. Over the years, these units have made significant progress in modifying construction techniques to reduce down time and improve the quality of the overall product. In addition to constructing public access sites, these units spend a great deal of time doing work on Fish and Wildlife Areas and Fish Hatcheries.

Anyone who has suitable waterfront land to sell on waters that lack public access may contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 317-234-7629.

Before construction can begin public notices must be given and permits must be obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Division of Water, the Division of Historic Preservation, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, as well as an endangered species clearance.

Recently Added Sites

Outdoor lovers have new access to Sugar Creek with the recent opening of the new Sugar Creek Public Fishing Area, located southwest of Crawfordsville.  

The Montgomery County site is approximately 1.5 miles south of  Indiana 32 on Camp Rotary Road, and approximately 1 mile west on Offield Road. The DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife purchased the approximately 12.5-acre area as part of a larger partnership to acquire 41 acres. 

Sugar Creek Public Access site

The 12.5 acre site has been planted with trees using a tree planter from the Indiana State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and includes a parking lot. The existing path to the creek for canoes has been improved. Pheasants Forever will plant a portion of the site with warm-season grasses.

The remaining land, owned and managed by NICHES Land Trust, was acquired with funds from the Indiana Heritage Trust, NICHES Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and Friends of Sugar Creek. That 28.5-acre area, known as Bachner Nature Preserve, also has been planted with native trees and grasses with support from Pheasants Forever.

Fishing is allowed on both parcels. There is no fee for use of either.