Fall seed collection has begun. On a warm Saturday afternoon two days before the autumnal equinox, twelve friends of Blue Heron Ministries gathered to gingerly strip seeds from prairie plants in preparation for a restorative scattering of the same later in the fall. Yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, showy tick trefoil (yes, the seeds literally covered Denille), prairie dock, whorled rosinweed, black-eyed Susan, prairie dropseed, and side-oats grama were ready for harvest in a couple of restored prairies in northeast Steuben County. Thank you to Lynn Simons, Bette and Jim Thomson, Pam Horton, Jeannine Walker, Denille, Olivia, and Alexis Conklin, Mary Durrand, Peg Zeis, Don Luepke, and Nate Simons for the worthy effort of picking those seeds!
On September 6 a group of about 40 people gathered at LaGrange County’s Pine Knob County Park to view and celebrate what has become a wonderfully successful partnership of not just LaGrange County Parks and Blue Heron Ministries, but many agencies and nonprofits to create what many experts in the field are calling one of the best examples of natural areas restoration in the region.
The day began under a veil of clouds and a threat of light rain, but only a brief early morning mist teased the group and soon a beautiful late summer day unfolded. The forty attendees represented stakeholders and direct participants in two significant acquisitions to this LaGrange County Park and the several year, and still ongoing, effort to return it to its once natural state…a closely juxtaposed collection of oak openings, upland prairie, prairie fen, sedge meadow, and small marl lake fed by meandering rivulets and seeping fen waters.
Participants were greeted by LaGrange County staff, affixed with nametags, seated at the long tables of the former conservation club headquarters, now park visitor center, and treated to a homemade lunch of pork sandwiches and side salads. Placemats were 11×17 photos of the property with all the stakeholders mentioned and how each was involved (see below).
The meeting opened with Parks Director, Mike Metz welcoming the group, thanking those who made the project possible, and giving the historical context on how the properties came to LaGrange County Parks over the years and how the restoration of natural areas began and is progressing.
Mike turned the program over to Blue Heron Ministries’ Director, Nathan Simons, who further discussed the already unique features of the undisturbed portions of the property, the research done to determine how the land once was, pre-settlement, and finally the incredible work that has and is being done to restore and manage the land back towards its original high quality.
The box below shows the incredible number of groups and individuals who made the project possible. So much of the work was completed through the generosity of both individuals, former landowners, and many federal, state, regional, county organizations.
Following lunch, the highlight of the day was a guided walk from the center through the oak woodlands and restored prairie to a high ridge overlooking the Duff Lake Fen restoration project. Mike and Nathan gave a verbal description of the land at the time of acquisition. With sweeps of their hands we learned of where the drainage ditches once ran, where they are now filled, where culverts were removed and existing streams were enhanced. Areas of high quality remnant natural features were noted and areas of intensive management and restoration with fire, mower, herbicide and seed were pointed out.
We then descended our ridge overlook and entered the fen wetlands, sedge meadows and marl flats. Nate took the lead and Blue Heron Ministries’ field steward John Brittenham followed towards the rear to provide supplementary interpretation. The path was narrow, undeveloped, and we snaked along, stopping occasionally to admire a unique plant or to discuss the ‘then and now’ of this unique project.
For some, this opportunity was the first time to set soggy feet in the fen since the early days of project planning. What a treat to hear their claims of total satisfaction of the project’s success. IDNR Division of Nature Preserves botanist, Scott Namestnik was on hand and with his keen eye and occasional consult of his hand lens, offered commentary on some of the very special plants. Under a private consulting hat, Scott was part of the initial investigation of plant life for the project. It was a treat for me to eavesdrop on the conversations of he and Scott Fetters of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, as they both discussed what they had dreamed for the property and how to their pleasure the dreams are coming true.
Topics of conversation also included plans for public access through the use of trails, boardwalks, and strategically placed overlooks. When these come to fruition, we will all have a great view of this successful project and a piece of our past and natural heritage returned.
Pine Knob County Park and Duff Lake Project
Juday Tract 108 Acres
Appraised at $380,000
- Bicentennial Nature Trust $190,000
- Heritage Trust $95,000
- LaGrange County Community Foundation & Friends of LaGrange County Parks $20,000
- Bargain Sale – Juday Family $75,000
Dehority Tract 21 Acres
Appraised at $78,000
- Bicentennial Nature Trust $39,000
- Heritage Trust $19,500
- LCCF & Friends $10,000
- The Nature Conservancy $9,500
Total ACRES 229 Total acquisition $458,000
- National Fish & Wildlife – Sustain Our Great Lakes grant $270,000
- LCPD In-kind $12,000
- US Fish & Wildlife Partners Program $25,000
- IDNR Fish & Wildlife Cost Share $3,800
- Ralph E. Taylor Conservation Fund grant $5,000
- The Conservation Fund $108,000
- LaGrange County Park Department $15,000
- LCPD In-kind $13,000
- Blue Heron Ministries $2,000
Total Restoration $486,400
Approximate total acquisition/restoration $944,400
Future Pine Knob Park and Duff Lake Fen Trail Development
- Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant $175,000
- Olive B. Cole Foundation Grant $35,000
- LCCF Grant $15,000
- LaGrange County $75,000
- LCPD In-kind labor and equipment $50,000
Thanks to an overwhelming host of generous financial supporters, we are very close to meeting our goal to raise $60,000 for the acquisition of the Headacres Farm addition to Badger Barrens. Of the initial $120,000 purchase price, the first half was gifted by Indiana’s President Benjamin Harrison Conservation trust Fund. The remaining half is to be raised through donations from friends of Blue Heron Ministries.
Thanks to our generous friends we met our challenge match from an anonymous donor from the Clear Lake area! The donor included, we raised or were pledged $40,000 in a matter of a few weeks. We are working on the last $20,000 chunk. As of September 24, $8,760.20 remains to be raised.
Thank you: Mr./Ms. Anonymous, Allison Klement, Terri Gorney, Hannah Olsen, Donna Rayl, Henry Kroodyk, Harve Hathaway, Mary Durand, Bridget Harrison and Dave Drogos, Marilyn Clevneger, Mike Clock, Janel Rogers, Fred Duschl, Rick and Martha Fansler, Aimee and Nate Simons, Melvin and Denille Conklin, Anita Dierkes, Lee and Pat Casebere, Steve Witte, Jim and Bette Thomson, Ken and Dee Wolf, Roger and Mary Hawks, Kate Sanders, Pam Morton, Peg Zeis, Jo Burkhardt, Fred Wooley, The Ralph E. Taylor Conservation Fund (administered by the Steuben County Community Foundation), The Darrel Ray Simons Memorial Fund (administered by the Steuben County Community Foundation), and The Ropchan Foundation.
As many of you know, I have been working part time for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Nature Preserves as long as Blue Heron Ministries has been around. Rich Dunbar, regional ecologist, offered me a “safety net” years ago just as Blue Heron Ministries was forming. I have held onto that net for this many years, not because I still need it, but because I have fallen in love with the work I get to do on the finest of natural areas that Indiana has to offer. Stewarding the fens and oak woodlands in northeast Indiana is usually done alone. At times I wish I had someone with which to share the experiences…to “ooh and aah” along with me. So frequently I take a moment to wipe my sweaty brow and proverbially stop and smell the roses. I take a picture on my mobile phone of something that arrests my attention and then send it along with a brief text description or question to my two grandsons.
I thought I would take a moment and pass some images along to you as well. So pretend you are my 10-year old and 8-year old grandsons who live in the big city hours away. Receive these images, pretend you are young, and comment appropriately.
We are very excited about the progress towards the Headacres Farm addition to our Badger Barrens Nature Preserve! Early this summer, BHM reached out to partners and supporters requesting assistance in raising $60,000 towards the purchase. An anonymous private donor has generously pledged a $20,000 matching gift, and we are close to meeting that match!
The most recent donation was a very generous gift of $5,000 from the Ralph E. Taylor Conservation Fund, through the Steuben County Community Foundation. That puts our current donations at nearly $15,000! Once we meet our goal towards the matching funds, we will still need to raise $20,000 to complete the acquisition cost.
Would you consider helping us meet our goal? Donations can be sent to Blue Heron Ministries, Inc., 2955 W. Orland Rd., Angola, IN 46703. Please note “Badger Barrens addition” in the memo line. You can also donate online.
Last month, Bridget Harrison, director of Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy, called to inform me of a wonderful opportunity for Blue Heron Ministries. It seems that word has spread that we are in the process of acquiring 24 acres of land adjacent to and west of our Badger Barrens Sanctuary.
Badger Barrens Sanctuary, located northeast of Clear Lake (Fremont, IN) features a sand prairie restoration with abundant wild blue lupine. Additions to the sanctuary include lots on the shore of Mirror Lake that are home to an open, oak woodland replete with Indiana’s largest population of the State-endangered pale vetchling peavine. A conservation easement of property to the south links another lake, Lake Anne. The Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy recently purchased land to the west of the 24-acre acquisition project. So, when this phase of the project is completed nearly 60 acres of land rich in biological diversity and natural beauty will be preserved and restored for the enjoyment of area hikers and for the benefit of myriad native plants and animals.
Late in 2018 we received a promise from the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust Fund to partner with us to assist with the acquisition in the amount of $60,000. That means that we need to raise the remaining $60,000 to complete the $120,000 purchase.
Back to the telephone conversation. An anonymous donor and friend of both organizations proposed an offer to us…a challenge match. If Blue Heron Ministries would raise $20,000 toward the cost of acquisition of the 24-acre addition, the donor would match the amount. What good news! What generosity! What an opportunity!
Please help us raise funds to meet the match. No deadline has been specified by the donor, but closing on the 24-acre property will likely occur in July. A one-time gift to Blue Heron Ministries will be accepted with appreciation. Another option is to send installments in the form of a monthly pledge. Both types of gifts are tax exempt donations that would be followed by an acknowledgment letter.
Please send contributions to Blue Heron Ministries, Inc., 2955 W. Orland Rd., Angola, IN 46703. Please note “Badger Barrens addition” in the memo line. Donations can also be made online here.
If you have questions regarding the project or how to assist with acquisition, please call Nate Simons, 260/316-2498. With your help, we will be one step closer to protecting a much desired connecting piece in the picture of cooperation between two area conservation organizations…and help spread the lupines!