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…
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.
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!
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 email@example.com or (260) 316-2498, if you have questions.
On August 26, BHM conducted a prairie tour of a dozen restoration projects in Steuben and Lagrange Counties. It was a nice day at the end of a long work week. Twenty five people, supporters and volunteers for BHM, gathered at the Chapel office, introduced ourselves, and filled two micro buses provided by Fairview Missionary Church.
It was good for all to see the progress on these projects. The four full-time BHM employees were the tour leaders and it was good for them to see all the projects from a more relaxed view and through the eyes of the participants.
The projects we visited were:
- Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area Nasby Fen Overlook
- Duff Lake Fen, a project in cooperation with the Lagrange County Parks at Pine Knob Park
- Bachelor Farm Conservation Reserve Program project. This is a huge landscape project involving wetlands, lakeshore, acres of prairie, and upland tree plantings.
- Trine State Recreation Area. Roadside plantings and prairie seeding near Welcome Center.
- Fremont Library, Native landscape plantings in a town setting to capture natural history heritage and eliminate landscaping costs.
- Nate Simons prairie. A home native landscape where we practice what we preach. Also a visit to the BHM barn and seed storage program.
- Badger Barrens. A BHM property which showcases the beautiful lupine.
- Patty Griest prairie and tree plantings on south side of Clear Lake. Another homeowner, native landscape enthusiast!
- Powers Prairie. Another private landowner project on a larger scale.
- Drive-bys of Spangler Grove and Marilyn Clevinger properties. Clear Lake taking advantage of native landscaping in a small public area. Marilyn taking advantage of the same in a smaller yard environment.
- Clark Matson Cemetery. This historic cemetery has areas within it set aside and managed by BHM, a fine representation of how small cultural areas, under proper care, can provide a great glimpse of our natural heritage. At this site, Nate Simons took a spade full of soil from the cemetery native prairie to compare it with that of the nearby agricultural field. The dark color of the rich native prairie soil was a strong contrast with that of the much worked farm field. A nice wrap up to a nice day.
Our group was small but not lacking enthusiasm as we launched our canoes just below the dam at Mongo. The weather posed a threat but we barely got damp as only an occasional misty rain fell. It actually was quite refreshing and cooling on a humid July morning. At least we weren’t soaked as were some paddlers in a large group we encountered on the river who had the misfortune (or was it deliberate?) of capsizing in the gently flowing waters of the Pigeon.
After a four-plus paddle on the Pigeon we worked out way through a significant bed of lily pads and left our boats behind forgetting any thought of our damp clothing which quickly became decorated with muck. Nate kindly excused his senior troops’ slowness of pace, even though using walking poles, as he explained that because he spends so much time in this irregular habitat he has developed “fen legs.” But there we were, the beauty of Nasby fen stretched out before us! As we struggled through the unpredictable terrain it was hard (but very important!) to keep our eyes on each step we took. The Blazing Star was bountiful and profoundly beautiful. Among other plants, we saw Death Camus, Kalm’s Lobelia, Hardhack, Meadowsweet, Sundew, Pitcher Plant, and numerous grasses, sedges, and rushes. How, buried under the dense vegetation, Nate spotted a spike of a newly emerged Purple Loosestrife, we don’t know. But he took time to dig it from the mucky soil lest it get a start on reinvading the fen. And on went the daring explorers from muck to marl, seeps to rivulets, skin-slicing but delicious blackberries, and hummocks to sinkholes just waiting to swallow a victim, until we again reached the water’s edge where our canoes, well banked in ankle-deep muck awaited the all-too-short final stretch of our journey and we crossed the widened pool on the river to the take-out point above Nasby Dam.
It was interesting that the devotion of the day of our Pigeon River paddle and Nasby Fen tour, July 30, from Sara Young’s Jesus Calling was as follows:
“Worship Me in the beauty of holiness. I created beauty to declare the existence of My holy Being. A magnificent rose, a hauntingly glorious sunset, oceanic splendor- all these tings were meant to proclaim My presence in the world. Most people rush past there proclamations without giving them a second thought…
How precious are My children who are awed by nature’s beauty; this opens them up to My holy Presence. Even before you knew Me personally, you responded to My creation with wonder. This is a gift, and it carries responsibility with it. Declare My glorious Being to the world. The whole earth is full of My radiant beauty- My Glory!”
This article, along with others, was featured in this month’s edition of Rustling Grass. To see the full newsletter, visit the archives page or subscribe by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.