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By Summer Intern Liz Zombik email@example.com
This previous Saturday, owners of land near the Moraine Forest Nature Preserve and I attended the fourth Moraine Forest workshop and hike, hosted by Shirley Heinze Land Trust. This was one in a series of several hikes that incorporates partner organizations from around Northwest Indiana. The hope is that they will be able to raise the awareness of conservation options and assist landowners to preserve the Moraine Forest. Saturday’s workshop and hike was located at the Moraine Forest Nature Preserve located in Valparaiso, Indiana.
Jim Erdelac of Shirley Heinze Land Trust along with Derek Nimetz, an ecologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Nature Preserves Division, presented the workshop on Saturday. Saturday’s workshop was extremely successful because there was such a great turn out of interested landowners. Jim did a great job in answering the questions posed by landowners, especially pertaining to the various ways of donating land. As the workshop ended, I was able to speak with Larry McAfee, who owns land that is currently a classified forest. I asked Larry why he was interested in today’s hike and workshop, he responded, “I’m incredibly interested in preserving land for perpetuity. I was born and raised in Valpo, Porter County. There used to be so much country here, and now there is very little country left. I’m a board member of Tall Tree Arboretum. So my big deal is saving land for perpetuity.” I then asked him why he believes it is important to help preserve land; he replied enthusiastically, “I want land to be there for my kids and grand kids.” In response to what he learned from Saturday’s workshop, Larry told me, “I learned that there is a possibility that my neighbors, who don’t want public visitors, are able to donate land while still keeping it private.” It was great being able to speak with such eager and interested landowners at the workshop.
After the workshop finished up, we headed over to the Moraine Forest Nature Preserve, where Derek excitedly led the hike. Derek and his family actually live on the preserve, so it was great being assisted by someone so passionate and informative. Derek told us that the Moraine Forest Nature Preserve, which became Indiana’s first nature preserve, actually was used as farmland for a long period of time. The nature preserve started out at originally 160 acres and now spans over 800. It consists of wetlands, forests, ravines, steep hills, and its tributaries lead into Coffee Creek. Derek told us one of the interesting things about the Moraine Nature Preserve is how you are able to see the various stages of succession, or how the land is changing over time, with it currently being in its first stage. With it being spring, we were lead along ravines, where Derek said was the best place to find spring wildflowers. We were able to see white trilliums, blue and white violets, and spring beauties. While the Moraine Nature Preserve is rich in flowers and plant life, Derek informed us that the preserve also is home to many unique foresting nesting birds that attract many visitors. Along with the spring flowers, we were able to see jack-in-the-pulpit, wild onions (or ramps), blossoming dogwood trees, and shagbark hickory trees. We also came across a salamander, which Derek’s son found, and a little milk snake! The weather cooperated wonderfully for the hike and everyone really enjoyed themselves and the experience.
Before we all departed, I spoke with Bonnie Swarner, one of the landowner’s who attended the hike, asking her what her interest was in today’s hike and workshop, she replied, “I own adjoining property. So I responded to the invitation to see what was going on. I have never actually hiked this area, since I have been so busy with my own property. I learned some things today, like some plants I wasn’t familiar with.” I then asked her why she feels it is important to preserve land, she said, “It breaks my heart to see all the development over the years, and I grew up by a state park and I’ve always appreciated the wild life and maintaining the habitat, I just feel like we all work together in the world and the wildlife has just as much place as people so I try to maintain as much wildlife habitat as I can. Plus it helps the air, water, soil quality. Somebody has to care about that.”
Saturday was such a great success. The weather was beautiful, the people were great, and the landowners really got to learn and see how they help and how important they are in helping to preserve Northwest Indiana’s wonderful biodiversity. It’s the efforts of the people today that will make changes for tomorrow.