Blue Heron Ministries

An opportunity to be stewards of our Lord's creation within the context of community


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Glory on the Edge of a Gravel Pit by Rita Smith

One morning at work I was told about a spot in rural Steuben County where there was a patch of common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). The seed heads from this wetland plant were needed for a project and we needed) as much as we possibly could find.” With directions from Phillip about the location of this plant, I began my solo adventure.

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Driving west on County Road 100 North, I arrived at Angola Sand and Gravel. I needed to obtain permission to collect the seed at the property so I stopped at the office and asked. I told them that Blue Heron Ministries was my employer and that there was a property in LaGrange County that was being restored which is why I was directed to collect this seed. Morgan called Stuart who was back at the pint in a, might I say, VERY LARGE VEHICLE! He drove up to the office and talked to me and agreed it would be fine for me to collect the seed. He escorted me back to the lake which is where the plant was growing. I followed him in my vehicle, and once I parked, I let him know if I found the plant that I would probably be collecting into the afternoon hours. He was fine with that and let me know that it would be good if I stopped at the office to let Morgan know that I had exited the area. He also asked for a sample of the plant so he could see what it looked like.

 

This is what I shared with them about the plant: Boneset is a plant of wetland areas and grows anywhere from two to five feet. The flowers grow in small heads forming flat clusters and are white in color. Its stem and leaves are hairy and its leaves are opposite on the stem. Early pioneers took this as a sign and used a poultice from the plants leaves for people who had broken bones thinking it would help their bones ‘grow back together.’ Hence the name, “boneset.”

 

As I looked off in the distance, the first thing I saw and heard were four wood ducks flying from Grass Lake at the edge of the gravel pit. I also saw two kingfishers flying low over the water in search of food. Off to the south were sand hill cranes calling, not to mention geese resting on the water. What a great start to my day!

 

I walked slowly down a slight hill and picked my way over grapefruit sized stone. Shielding my eyes from the sun and searching, I finally noticed the boneset. I set down my bucket and began to pick. I looked around and knew I would be here for awhile and I didn’t care because all around me was nature; a lake, trees, plants, birds, sunny skies, and warm temperatures. This is my job for the day? I’ll take it- no problem.

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During the course of my day, I noticed many things that made me smile as I collected the seed of boneset. I continued to see a pair of kingfishers scouring Grass Lake in search of food. As they flew from their perch they made a rattling sound, which is typical, and then hovered over the water investigating any movement below the water. If they saw fish swimming, they dove to snatch the fish and flew back to their perch to consume it. What a show I was seeing!

 

The longer I stood in this area gathering seed, the more I enjoyed the experience. I looked out at the lake and it almost seemed like a beach because the mud flats made my mind’s eye picture a sandy beach. Therefore, my lunch became a picnic lunch at the beach as I sat on the ground enjoying the sun, breeze, and birds singing sweetly. The other sweet sound I heard were frogs. I had sat for about thirty quiet minutes eating my lunch and upon standing, the frogs who had been lounging right at the edge of the water of the mud flats, chirped and jumped… back into the water! It wasn’t just one or two frogs jumping back in, but at least half a dozen. And as I bent down to pick my bucket back up for my work, more sounded off and splashed back in. Such fun!

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Of course, moving around looking for seed isn’t the only time surprises are found. Standing still and just looking while moving one’s eyes is also rewarding. In fact, one time I spotted a common buckeye butterfly, so subtle the main color of the inner portion of wing and body but so startling the spots on the outer wing edges. These eye spots are a clue for its predators! The wonders of nature if only quiet and attentive for its observance.

 

This day of wonders had not been anticipated at 8:30 am when I began my journey to this gravel pit. I had only been thinking of strapping a bucket to my waist to collect many dried flower heads for later use. The natural glory I was greeted with and enjoyed for several hours will always be in my memory and I will always think back to my picnic at the beach.


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Wait for It! by Nate Simons

We knew the day would come. But it came slowly. We anticipated it.

 

When director of LaGrange County Parks, Mike Metz and I stood on the plateau in late 2012 overlooking the then derelict fen, we didn’t know the details, but we thought we could restore the grossly-ditched landscape. So we wrote a grant and included a very conceptual plan of what we thought we should do to restore the hydrology and the native fen, prairie, and oak savanna plant communities that was, at that time, a cattle pasture.

 

The restoration concept seemed simple enough. Eradicate the invasive plant species. Fill the ditches with the very soil that came out of them. Sow seeds of native plant species. But truth be told, we had never done this before on such a grand scale. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation believed we could do it. And the restoration of received from NFWF is half way through its tree-year duration.

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With much professional consultation leading to a series of complicated events, the hydrology at Duff Lake Fen is headed in a new trajectory. The US Department of Agriculture developed a one-foot contour interval topographic map of the 108-acre property. Gensic Associates shot elevations on adjacent properties, in the main ditch, and developed a plan to restore sinuosity to that ditch. Orbis Environmental Consulting wrote the Nationwide 27 permit that would allow placing fill material in a wetland to actually restore the wetland. Usually and reluctantly giving permits to landowners to place fill in wetlands to convert wetlands to uplands for future development, the Army Corps of Engineers and Indiana Department of Environmental Management gave their blessings as they granted this seldom-used permit to put the soil back in the ditches. The Environmental Resources Center of Indiana Purdue at Fort Wayne developed a plan to reduce impacts on reptiles and amphibians. And Northup Excavating spent the better part of seven weeks moving tons of moist, rich, organic, black muck.

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No, the restoration is not complete… and it will never be “finished,” because it will always need care. But the day arrived this week when the water took a more natural turn. The ditches are filled with the very soil that was removed to form them decades ago. And what once was a straight deep ditch is now a shallow, meandering stream. Springs have emerged all over the site and shallow pools are forming in low lying places. Water, once relatively-quickly swept away to Cedar Lake, now slowly makes its way there in a more circuitous and subterranean fashion. And the landscape awaits new and verdant life!

 

So, with a smile and a nod toward the long-anticipated work at Duff Lake Fen, I see the process of restoration as a looking back to what once was, acknowledging what it has become, bringing about change in a direction that mirrors (but a poor, imperfect reflection) what once was and will be again, and looking forward to the good, right, and perfectly beautiful way it will be.

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When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, neither wild plants nor grains were growing on the earth. For the LORD God had not yet sent rain to water the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the soil. Instead, springs came up from the ground and watered all the land. (Genesis 2:4-6, New Living Translation)

 

The parched ground will become a pool, and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land. Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish where desert jackals once lived. (Isaiah 35:7, New Living Translation)

 

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. (Revelation 21: 5-6, New Living Translation)


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Chemotherapy by John Brittenham

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There are many days when I’m worn out and burdened by a job that requires me to spend the majority of my time killing things. I’m not the type of person that wakes up in the morning and says “Alright, I get to go annihilate a few acres of cattails today. Bring it on!” That is not me. Rather my passion and enthusiasm is more often brought out by returning life to the earth. This is such a small portion of Blue Heron Ministries calendar year that I’m always left wanting for more when it does happen. I spend most of the year dreaming of the days when my actions of taking life away from a place will give way to returning life back to the land. Why all this death and herbicide? Is it necessary? I’ve pondered this question often in my years as a restoration ecologist. The answer I’ve come to is yes, it is necessary. And though I often dislike the fact, in this broken world such aggressive actions are required to return many areas to a state of ecological health and/or integrity.

 

Ecological health/integrity, what does that even mean? When we think of human health, we are usually talking about the body and mind being free from illness or injury and possessing soundness and vigor. As my college biology teacher taught me, health can also be thought of as the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis, or a relatively steady state. This requires a healthy body to be both resistant and resilient to stress. If we get too hot, our body responds by sweating and cooling us down. If we are infected by a germ, our body produces antibodies to help destroy the infection. If we are cut, our blood begins to clot and seal the wound. All these actions keep the body functioning within the parameters needed for survival and optimum function. But sometimes the body gets stressed beyond its ability to handle the stress on its own. At these times, outside intervention is needed or the body will lose its ability to function correctly and severely diminished health or even death will ensue. Most commonly we turn to doctors to assist us in these situations.

 

Those of us who work at Blue Heron Ministries can be thought of as health care providers of natural systems. We monitor our area’s habitats and ecosystems and seek to make improvements when these systems are not functioning property. In essence, we monitor the ecological health and integrity of the land and the organisms that depend on it. What then does an ecosystem need to be considered healthy? Though there are many ways to look at this and many scientists would argue that ecological integrity is a much better way to frame this discussion, for not let;s stay with the comparison of ecological health to human health. For an ecosystem to be healthy it must be free of illness or injury or at least maintain its ability to support and maintain a biological system resilient and resistant to outside stresses. How do the natural areas in northeast Indiana measure up? As many of you know or would guess, they are almost all sick, some much more worse than others.

 

One of the largest stresses to the ecosystems around us, and around the world for that matter, is invasive species. These organisms are very similar to cancer as they infect natural areas in which they did not originate. Once introduced, invasive species will begin to reproduce and outcompete native organisms until, in many cases, the natural is almost entirely dominated by one species. Just as doctors today use chemotherapy to remove invasive cancer from the human body, we use chemotherapy to remove invasive cancer from the human body, we use chemotherapy in the form of herbicide to treat the cancer of invasive species. Just like chemotherapy is used for as short a duration as possible while still ensuring the highest likelihood of success, so are our herbicide treatments on invasive species. And just like cancer survivors must undergo regular testing to find the cancer if it does return, so the natural areas that have been healed from their invasive species infections must also routinely be checked for invasive species and dealt with as soon as possible if found.

 

To be honest, many of the once widespread habitats and ecosystems of northeast Indiana have been injured or infected so severely that they are no longer present in the areas where they once dominated. The prairies, savannas, wetlands, and old growth forests once all too common on the northeast Indiana landscape are now gone. They have experienced “death: or are severely degraded beyond the point of recognition and have been replaced with habitats that thrive on the disturbances that human habitation and have been replaced with habitats that thrive on the disturbances that human habitation brings. You’d be hard-pressed to find any habitats that have not been significantly altered over the past two centuries.

 

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But there is hope. This is the hope that Blue Heron Ministries is founded on. Death is not the end of the story. We here on earth have been invited to take part in the same great restoration that Jesus Christ inaugurated that first Easter morning. Jesus was all about bringing the kingdom of God here on earth. In that kingdom, our relationships are restored. Man to God, man to man, and man to the dead to show us that resurrection after death and the full restoration of all relationships is possible in the Kingdom of God. So, on those days when I am spraying invasive species with herbicide and causing so much death and ugliness, I remember that I am not taking life carelessly. My actions are part of a larger plan to bring healing and eventfully restoration to the landscape. For, it is only through the removal of the disease that the landscape can be reseeded, reborn, and returned back to its rightful relationship with the rest of creation. Of these actions, I am proud to do my part.

 


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Mark Your Calendars!

It is the time of year for us to gather together to give thanks for the many blessings of Blue Heron Ministries. Our annual Thanksgiving breakfast will be Saturday, November 19th at 9AM, and we will join in fellowship at the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes (2955 W. Orland Rd).
We ask that you bring a breakfast/brunch dish to share. Drinks and table service will be provided.
Please let us know if you and your family can join us.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:13


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Why Did the Crane Cross the Road? by Fred Wooley

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To check out the BHM prairie plantings! On September 2, I stopped by the Trine State Recreation Area to check out the prairie plantings that Blue Heron Ministries has been installing the past four years. It is a new entrance to the relatively new state recreation area of Pokagon State Park.

 

At the time of the Trine opening, I was the park interpreter at Pokagon. We worked with the road contractors to establish native prairie plants along the road from the entrance on Feather Valley Road to the property Welcome Center. There were two long islands separating the lanes near the beginning and we began an ambitious project to turn those into native plants, providing a much more attractive, native landscape appropriate entrance, and eliminate the need to mow between the curbs. The project has since been enhanced, as described in another article in this issue.

 

On September 2, I pulled up to the gatehouse and was immediately startled by a sandhill crane stepping off the center curb and crossing the road towards the planted prairie on the west side of the road. I soon noticed it joined another. I got out to photograph them and was immediately impressed by how tame they were. They simply hung out in the prairie we planted in 2015. Now two years mature, the area is providing habitat for cranes to find some cover while searching for food.

 

I later learned the pair nested in the wetland just to the south. Good crane habitat requires two important components, a wetland for nesting  and nearby uplands for feeding. The wetland was existing and now with Blue Heron Ministries help, so too does this unique prairie upland.

 

The BHM mission: “… build communities where creation is kept and to keep creation so that community may be restored.” The cranes put the period on the end of that mission statement, in addition to just crossing the road…


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Islands in the Sun by Rita Smith

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On Thursday, September 8, 2016, Blue Heron Ministries workers and volunteers finished a project four years in the making at the Trine State Recreation Area! All “islands in the sun” and other nearby parcels of land have officially been planted. Are some of you unfamiliar with this prairie planting story? Well, let’s back up a bit in time and review how it all came to be.

 

In late summer of 2012, Nate Simons, Director of Blue Heron Ministries, and Pokagon State Park Interpreter, Fred Wooley met at Trine State Recreation Area to discuss how best to proceed with the landscaping of this newly acquired DNR property. They came up with a great plan! Trine SRA was gearing up to open to the public but had a few last minute touches to be made, one of which these two gentlemen were planning. In brief, the property (Trine SRA), was purchased in 2006 by Ralph and Sheri Trine and then transferred to the DNR in 2007 with the financial backing of several state and local organizations. (To read about the details go to the DNR Pokagon State Park/ Trine State Recreation Area website). After being transferred, the property went through a major facelift, you might say. The property saw the removal of many buildings, renovations, restorations of natural features, and much more. A part of the “much more” is the idea that Nate and Fred came up with pertaining to the road islands at the entrance to the property.

 

Both Nate and Fred wanted to create the impression, to the first-time-ever visitor of the property, that the property had never been disturbed by humans, as if plantings seen upon entering had always been there. In other words, a landscape planted with sun-loving, native prairie plants from northeastern Indiana was the vision for these “road islands.”

 

Of course, a project like this would cost money. The initial pool of money, about $2,000, came from the 101 Lakes Land Trust, money left over from what was raised for the original purchase of the property in 2007. Various groups and individuals who visited Pokagon State Park’s Nature Center made other small donations that went toward the project.

 

In July of 2013, phase one of the project plantings began. There are two road islands that were being planted and the north end of the south island was planted first. Forbs and grasses were first planted and then in the gall of that year four trees were set out, three serviceberry and one burr oak. One more burr oak was planted next to the employee parking area by Emilio and Deanna Vasquez, volunteers. Other helpers that day were Lauren Loffer and Maggie Jaicomo.

 

In 2014, the south end of the south island was planted. Some of the forbs and grasses planted were butterfly milkweed, rough blazing star, showy goldenrod, little bluestem, prairie dropseed, and sideoats grama. A short section was also planted around the Trine entrance sign on Feather Valley Road. That same fall four trees were planted by Marjorie Hershman, Fred Wooley, and Rita Smith. Three serviceberry and one burr oak were donated by a family who visited the nature center on a regular basis and they wanted to pitch in on the project. These trees were planted in the north island.

 

In 2015, Cheryl Taylor look and interest in expanding our project. Through her late husband’s fund at the Community Foundation, The Ralph E. Taylor Conservation Fund, she funded the plantings in the space between the entrance road and the bike trail that year. There was also a small section by the gatehouse welcome sign that was planted at that time as well.

 

Finally, 2016 saw the last phase of the “islands in the sun” plantings. On September 8, we arrived at about 9 a.m. It was a mild temperature with mostly cloudy skies. There was a chance of showers and as we were unloading the plant trays from the wagon, it did begin to rain lightly. Soon it stopped raining and volunteers began arriving. We were lucky to have six people show up to help the other workers put the plants in the ground that day. All told, we planted close to 1,800 plugs of prairie forbs and grasses that day day.

 

John, Fred, and I unloaded the plants from the wagon and set them in groups according to their height- short, medium, and tall. While we were doing that, Benjamin was drilling holes into the soil with an auger. This technique calls for faster planting! We had ten rows across so the middle two rows were planted with the tall plants. Then, as we worked our way out to the curb we chose medium plants and short ones for the very edge. At the beginning of the day, seeing all of the holes that had been drilled into the ground and all of the plant trays with plants that needed to be planted seemed a bit daunting. But as we all worked together, by mid-day, as I stood on the south end looking to the north of that island, it was incredible how much progress we had made! The dark soil, the green plants going into the holes, the busy workers with dirt under their fingernails, had made such progress. The project looked amazing! We were nearing completion.

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Some of our volunteers, Denille, Olivia, and Alexis could only stay for the morning. So Lynn, Deanna, Pam, and the others decided it was time for lunch. We were treated by two lunch guests. Two sandhill cranes stood along the edge of the wetland and talked to us while we were eating. This wasn’t just any lunch break!

 

After lunch, we continued to plant for about two more hours until all of the plants filled the drilled holes. We began picking up empty plant trays and containers and set them back into the trailer. Ben laid down a water hose in the planted area so all of the plants could have a drink to start them off in the best way. Volunteers began leaving, everything was picked off the ground, and the Trine Road Island project was now complete.

 

In four years’ time, the though processes of Nate and Fred had come to fruition. As the roots of the prairie grasses and forbs grow deep into the soil, the “islands in the sun” should ensure healthy plants, a variety of color, and peaceful satisfaction to the Trine State Recreation Area visitor!


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Upcoming Events

First October seed collection this Saturday at 10am!

Every Saturday in October, we travel to different areas of Steuben and Lagrange counties to collect native prairie plant seeds. Come gather with Blue Heron Ministries friends for the opportunity to fellowship, visit unique natural communities, learn about native plants, and enjoy the autumn harvest.

We’ll meet at the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes (2955 W. Orland Road) at 10 am and carpool to the site(s). We have all the tools and buckets, just bring your lunch

Contact us at stuartbheron1@hotmail.com or (260) 316-2498, if you have questions.