Opening of Elkhart Bog Nature Preserve and Grassland Trail

The Elkhart Bog Nature Preserve finally opened to the public this month northeast of Elkhart – to see why the state has worked for over 30 years to protect it. A half-mile gravel path winds past prairie and woods and on a floating boardwalk above the bog, which stretches across a horizon of poison ivy that has turned scarlet red and maroon for fall. .

But before the trail reaches the main attraction, conservationist Rich Dunbar stops in a slow hike to point out the still-blooming wildflowers and grasses that the trail traverses on more than 20 acres of restored prairie.

It affects a species called stiff goldenrod―found specifically in grasslands―that forms its flowers in a tighter cluster than the goldenrod commonly seen in yards and along roadsides ( usually Canada’s goldenrod). Upon closer inspection, our little entourage begins to see goldenrods with shorter and longer leaves and flowers of varying sizes. There are many species of this late summer bloomer here, Dunbar says. The same goes for the blue asters that are blooming now.

Such diversity. Dunbar says most of the seeds that started this prairie over the four to five years, starting in 2000, had been collected from local plants.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources regional ecologist Rich Dunbar points out steep goldenrod along the prairie at the Elkhart Bog Nature Preserve.

“It’s a cool place with a lot of rare things,” says Dunbar, who has worked at the site since the 1980s. He oversees this preserve and others in 10 northeastern counties for the Department’s Nature Preserves Division. of Indiana’s natural resources.

He points to an area of ​​woods along the trail where invasive bush honeysuckle has been removed and notes that other invasive species such as phragmites and hybrid cattails have been removed from the bog itself, saying, “We control them to protect the good things.

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Indiana DNR, which owns and maintains this reservation, had hoped to complete and open the trail by 2020, but was delayed by the pandemic.

From the cool, paved eight-car parking lot, the flat path to the bog is covered with a certain size of limestone gravel and dust, designed to bind and allow wheelchairs to roll over it without sinking or leaving footprints, Ric Edwards, the DNR’s director of ADA compliance, says. This proves true as he drives his wheelchair on our media tour last week.

Walking along the trail and meadow at Elkhart Bog Nature Preserve, Elkhart County Parks Board Member Karen Mackowiak, left, and Ric Edwards, Director of ADA Compliance for the Department of Natural Resources from Indiana.

“They paid a lot of attention to the surface,” he said at Thursday’s inauguration, coming from Indianapolis. “They’ve done a really good job here.”

The roughly 60-acre bog is part of a nearly 230-acre preserve, and there are over 100 acres of land that the state and county hold as conservation easements to protect the preserve. The reservation is a compilation of land donations, which began with 28 acres in 1990, and land purchased with revenue from Indiana’s environmental license plates, says Elkhart native Laura Minzes, operations manager for DNR nature reserves.

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The Nature Conservancy is looking to acquire more land as a buffer, said stewardship director Tom Swinford, who also looked after the reserve as the DNR’s assistant director of nature reserves until his retirement this summer.

The preserve is home to 26 species of plants and animals rare in Indiana, including the Blanding’s turtle. Minzes heard sandhill cranes singing in the bog when she arrived. Online birders have recorded species here via eBird.org.

Walking beside grasses that tower over our heads, Dunbar points out a low plant that the prairies support: mountain mint. Its narrow leaves smell sweeter and wilder than peppermint.

Mountain mint grows in the grassland of the Elkhart Bog Nature Reserve.

The 200+ foot boardwalk crosses a moat that usually surrounds a bog. The ditch is dry when we visit, but Dunbar says it could fill up this fall. Water levels fluctuate. The boardwalk is surrounded by a floating carpet of vegetation, including plenty of spatterdock with its large, round leaves. But Dunbar says it’s nine feet off solid ground, while parts of the bog are 20 feet deep.

Bogs differ from other wetlands in that they develop over thousands of years, a still, poorly drained bowl of highly acidic water that supports certain plants. More typical of the north, there are only a handful in our region.

Bog insect-eating plants aren’t close enough to see from the boardwalk, but Dunbar points to wetland-loving blue joint grass, as well as king fern and a wild species of spirea.

Poison ivy and its reddish hues spread behind Indiana Department of Natural Resources regional ecologist Rich Dunbar at the end of the boardwalk in the Elkhart Bog Nature Preserve.

Indiana State Rep. Doug Miller, who represents North Elkhart County, joins the tour and talks about the “harmony” of nature and development at this site, saying: “As long as we take care of nature, nature will take care of us. ”

Contractors have cleared large swaths of former farmland where commercial and industrial buildings stand half a mile south on County Roads 15 and 4. Amazon’s massive facility is being built at at least half a mile from the bog itself.

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Dunbar says the DNR will monitor the likely effects of the development, noting that the impact on water levels generally is a “countywide issue.”

Where: The Elkhart Bog Nature Preserve is at 51455 County Road 15, Elkhart, northeast of the city. Take County Road 17 north of the Toll Road, go west on County Road 4, then north on County Road 15 for half a mile. Open from sunrise to sunset. Nothing can be deleted. Pets must be kept on a leash. No horses, picnics or hunting. No toilets.

Find columnist Joseph Dits on Facebook at SBTOutdoorAdventures or 574-235-6158 or [email protected].

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