Chuck and the team traveled to southern Indiana to explore animals at a unique wildlife park. They also checked out an iconic dining experience in Anderson.
PAOLI, Indiana – Indiana is full of incredible places waiting to be explored, so Chuck has great destinations explored near home in his latest big adventure!
Wildpark Wilstem traces its animal-loving roots back to 1915, when the property’s owner showed his neighbors beautiful horses.
Since then, this facility between French Lick and Paoli has hosted hundreds of thousands of animal lovers, all longing for an encounter with nature.
Current owner Jerry Fuhs has spent the last 32 years expanding the exhibits, adding more animals and giving guests the opportunity to have even more memorable experiences at the resort, officially named Wilstem Wildlife Park and Drive-Thru Safari Park .
With elephants, kangaroos, grizzly bears and sloths, guests have the opportunity to see all kinds of animals up close, making a trip to the park an unforgettable experience.
Our Big Adventure crew was met at the door by three 9-week-old baby otters. They are boys – and they were ALL boys – who climb on top of each other and make a ruckus. Now they are cute and cuddly, they are growing and will soon be too big to hold and play with. They are now available for tours and personal encounters with guests.
Giraffes in Wildpark Wilstem
By far the most breathtaking encounter, however, is with the two tallest Hoosiers, Burt and Marchello, the park’s two tree-clad giraffes.
As part of the encounter, visitors are shown into the barn that houses the big guys. Yes, they are huge and beautiful and larger than life, but most people who come across them are truly amazed at the length of their tongues.
“They have very long tongues so they can pick leaves from the tree. You can see their tongues are blue so they don’t get sunburned,” said Rebecca Krebs, director of animal operations. “You’ll notice some have a bluer tongue and that’s because they’re constantly grazing or showing leaves off branches. And of course in Africa there’s all this sunshine and they’re big and their tongues are out all day and that helps avoid sunburn.”
Both Burt and Marchello are known to kiss visitors who feed them carrots.
More animals in Wildpark Wilstem
There’s a petting area where young children can see goats and kangaroos, and if they’re lucky they can pet an animal that’s loved here but considered a nuisance in Australia.
“We have a whole herd of kangaroos here [of] all different ages. We have several joeys in the house so we’re hoping [in] In the spring, they’ll start sticking out a few little heads,” Krebs said. “A lot of people wonder why they are also called red kangaroos, but these are red kangaroos. Her ears are a little red now. The male will secrete a red oil between his chest and arms that looks almost like red paint, and hence they get the name red kangaroo.”
And what about the common belief that kangaroos kick? Krebs said it was a rare occurrence because Australian imports usually just want a snack.
The drive-thru safari brings you close to dozens of different species, like bison and emus, right next to your car.
Open during the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, this is a way to stay socially distanced and safely enjoy the beauty of these majestic creatures.
Grizzly Ridge is the park’s newest addition and is destined to become its most popular attraction.
Jeff “The Bear Man” Watson has been a bear trainer for decades. He has appeared in exhibitions, films and television shows including Walker Texas Ranger, Late Night Offers and the 2013 reality series Porter Ridge, which was filmed near Spencer, Indiana.
Watson is particularly fond of this new job because he’s hands-on working with his bears and guests can safely see him interacting with these giant creatures. For Watson, this is the perfect opportunity to bring people closer to the true nature of these giant beasts.
“I think you have to see something a lot to really appreciate it, and when you’ve been inundated with negativity by bears, it’s easy to say, ‘I want them gone,'” Watson said. “I think when people see them, [they say] “You know what, I kinda like this animal. I want to learn more about it and see how I can protect it.”
Grizzly Ridge at Wilstem Wildlife Park
According to Watson, black bears once existed in Indiana, but hunting and logging have wiped them out from the state of Hoosier. Protect yourself and protect the animal.
“I think if you tried to reintroduce them in Indiana now, [the] The majority of people will be too scared [unless] You grow up around them,” Watson said. “Pennsylvania has a lot of black bears. In fact, they caught over 4,600 black bears in 2019 just to manage their population, so these folks understand what the bears are, and once you get it, you’re often less afraid of them. “
At the Grizzly Encounter, visitors will see Watson interacting with his two bears, Bob and Screech. He knows their hints will be rewarded with treats, and they know exactly what to expect from him – that’s why his relationship with them works. However, Watson has not forgotten that they are dangerous, wild animals.
“I like the bears in this environment. I like to push the boundaries a bit to see what I can do next,” Watson said, noting that Bob and Screech are triplets and her sister will have cubs in a few days. “I want to see how close she lets me get to her. She and I have a great relationship, but things change when you have boys and I have no death wish.”
Grizzly encounters, drive-thru safaris and petting zoos aren’t the only things that await you in Wilstem.
We spent the night in one of the modern cabins and enjoyed the quiet, peaceful break from the city noise. Various packages are available, and a gift shop and snack bar are also part of the Wilstem experience.
What a wonderful part of our great adventure and a must for anyone wanting to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most beautiful animals.
Don’t call it a cult following – they wouldn’t like that. Bonge’s Tavern in tiny Perkinsville, Indiana has a following and is one of a kind.
This tiny restaurant with a fantastic reputation was so popular prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that diners crowded around until they had a chance to go to the small dining room and have dinner. That’s right – tailgate with corn hole, sun loungers and refreshments of all kinds.
Now taking reservations, the restaurant features world-famous pork loin and freshly flown-in Pacific fish.
It might have muted the tailgate hum a bit, but things move a lot smoother, and the extracurricular activities were never really part of the plan, according to owner and chef Tony Huelster.
“It just happened after our first summer that our reputation really exploded. We didn’t have a place to park, so they parked up and down wherever they could,” Huelster said. “Luckily a year later I was able to purchase the property next door and we opened it up and fenced it in. We weren’t there [taking] Reservations and never have been, I didn’t see a reason to change that, but you know, Fridays and Saturdays, oh my god, everyone’s been coming since we got the fence and we don’t allow people under 21 – even in the parking lot. We just let them do their own thing out there. That’s how it all started.”
Bonge’s menu is reminiscent of a premium restaurant with a maître d’, but here the waiters wear T-shirts and blue jeans.
“We have our funky tablecloths. I never wanted to be a sandwich shop. I’ve spent most of my career working as a professional chef and learning a good trade, so I wanted to showcase my skills and tastes, but in a comfortable, less stuffy environment,” Huelster said. “We’re a scratch kitchen—everything , what we make, including all of our desserts, all of our salad dressings, everything is made from scratch, and you know, I buy the best I can.”
Huelster often drives home after the restaurant opens, leaving the business to his daughter Ingrid Pickett.
The menu is posted on a blackboard and changes occasionally to give regulars a chance to try something new.
Speaking of regulars, they kept Bonge’s Tavern alive during the COVID-19 lockdown when the restaurant offered takeout orders.
It’s pretty much back to normal in the restaurant now, tables are a bit further apart but the menu is just as good.
Once things warm up, we might see a few people tailgating back in the Bonge’s Tavern parking lot. After all, would it be Bonges without that?
Reservations are required for most days and must be made through the restaurant’s website.
Check it out – it’s a crazy, unusual, wonderful Indiana adventure that you simply have to do.