By Mary Hursh
Despite a sprinkling of snow and temperatures in the low 30s, approximately 40 people enjoyed an interpretive hike at the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation’s Levinson-LaBrosse Lakes and Wetlands Education Center Saturday, March 2. The WACF has been protecting and preserving area lakes since 1991.
Heather Harwood, director of the WACF, and Dr. Nathan Bosch, director of the Lilly Center for Lakes and Streams at Grace College, teamed up to give hikers a overview of the 46 acres of the WACF property and the mission of the conservancy, plus a scientific and ecological explanation of elements found along the three trails on the property. Harwood and Bosch have partnered on presentations for more than 10 years. Harwood has been the director of the WACF since June 1998.
After a gathering in the Ruddell Pavilion, the group walked along Trail 1 to the site of the new WACF Memory Garden, planted in native flowers and grasses. The group saw an iron sculpture of a sandhill crane designed by Robert Fanning and constructed by Richard Lemberg and donated by Nancy and Robert Fanning. Bosch pointed out examples of different trees in the area and identified them by their bark, leaves and even acorns.
Bosch showed hikers the many species of trees on Trail 1, such as the white pine, dogwood, redbud, sycamore, birch and maple. He pointed to a huge log on the ground that had been tunneled by the ash borer. “You can tell the culprit was an ash borer by the trails it leaves on the bark,” said Bosch.
The newest site on the property, the amphitheater, gave hikers a chance to sit on the concrete rows and look out over the grasses to the lake. “The wetlands are very important to the health of the lake. They soak up and filter water like a kidney,” said Bosch.
There are three separate wetland areas on the property related to trails 1,2,3. Trail 1 to the west and north of the education center dissects a wetland area that runs from the education center to the memory garden to the mitigated wetland to Conklin Bay. Trail 2 to the north of the education center building creates the east boundary around the DNR wetland area (at the end of the driveway). Along this trail are areas of native wildflowers, old growth oaks, and two fish ponds. Trail 3 to the east of the education center building includes the wettest portion of the site. There is a loop through a wooded wetland and a man-made channel.
The group walked down to the lake and saw many habitats and feeding areas for birds and animals. Sandhill cranes, Canada geese, deer, groundhogs, raccoons chipmunks and snakes all seem to live in harmony on the grounds.
The conservancy owns approximately 500 lakefront feet and 600 channel front feet on Wawasee. On May 4, the WACF is planning a birding walk. On Oct. 19 and 20, the Falltastic Trail Walk will be featured. “The WACF is open to families, friends, and dogs (on a leash). Several family-friendly educational events are offered over the course of a year. The Lake Talk and Eats, native plant sale, the annual bug catch, Fishing Fun for Kids with the DNR, and bird watch are among the favorites. The trails are open every day,” said Harwood.