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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Eagle Marsh

 

There is a group of hikers connected to the Ft. Wayne Parks and Recreation department that have twice monthly hikes at area parks and nature preserves in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio.

I started walking with them last May when they were at McClue Preserve in Steuben County. Usually I only walk with them when they come this way, but last week they hiked at Eagle Marsh, part of the Little River Wetlands Project, a partial restoration of the Great Marsh that ran from Ft. Wayne to Huntington before drainage for agricultural purposes. Eagle Marsh was frequently mentioned in my Master Naturalist classes, so I thought I should take this opportunity to visit.

It was a cool morning, but mild by December standards, with lots of sunshine. The night air had frosted the landscape, making the ground crunchy.

First we entered the woods. The leaves on the trail had lost even the rich browns that I saw last month, but some of them were etched along the edges with the frost. Some even had all the veins in the leaf outlined in frost, giving them a very festive look.

Along the hike we encountered the remains of a beaver lodge. With the very dry conditions of this past summer, the beaver had moved to a wetter location, but because of the dry conditions we were able to walk completely around the outside of the lodge and even see the tunnel entrance.

Next we walked through the seasonal ponds, which are normally quite dry this time of year and especially so this year. Very little surface water was visible except in the drainage ditch that once was Cranberry Creek.

Not too far into this open area we encountered a high, long chain-link fence. I assumed it was the property border. Wrong! It was a border of sorts, but it was designed to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. I had heard of the Asian carp in the Mississippi and Wabash Rivers, and that there was concern for keeping them out of the Great Lakes, especially at Chicago where they could get in via the Chicago River. But here across what appeared to be an open field in Ft. Wayne was a chain-link fence for carp.

Maybe you’ve heard Ft. Wayne called the “Summit City.” That’s because it is at the summit of a lot of low lying area, a mini continental divide. The St. Mary’s River drains into the Maumee, which flows to Lake Erie. Not far from that is the historic Little River, which is the smaller channel of the headwaters of the Wabash. Native Americans, French fur traders, and explorers all knew about this area as a very short portage that ultimately connected Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico.

In times of great floods, the St. Mary’s River spilled into Eagle Marsh. In fact, last spring one of the stewards at Eagle Marsh was able to canoe right up to the fence, as strange as that seems looking at this picture. So if there were to be a big flood, the possibility exists that the carp could get into the St. Mary’s River.

We didn’t see a lot of animals, but we did see some nice deer and raccoon tracks in the frozen mud. The marsh also has a large number of salamanders, but they aren’t out in December.

Eagle Marsh is a 716 acre wetland preserve with mature forest, shallow water wetlands, sedge meadows, and prairie habitats. It is separated from Fox Island Park only by a railroad track, and together they make almost two square miles of wildlife habitat. The deer aren’t deterred by the railroad, and it appears the salamanders aren’t either. Some of the Eagle Marsh salamanders were banded and later recovered at Fox Island.

More than 200 kinds of wild birds have been seen at Eagle Marsh, including eagles, of course. Eleven more acres were added this year through the Indiana Heritage Trust, the money that comes from the sale of environmental license plates, the same trust that also gave a $100,000 grant to help in the purchase of Pond Lil at Dallas Lake Park here in LaGrange County.

So when you renew your license plates, think about getting the environmental plate with the eagle!