Walking along the trails of Pine Knob Park in Howe with Scott Beam is always an education, and Sunday during the annual meeting of the Friends of the LaGrange County Parks was no different.
The sun came out to cheer us after a rainy week and the good effects of the much needed rain were evident. Scott explained why Pine Knob is such a valuable piece of land – it has four distinct habitats that meet and merge in various places in the park. There’s the lake, the forest, the prairie and the wetlands, both marsh and swamp.
Naturalists see what so many of the rest of us miss. For example, the oak trees at Pine Knob, although they are now in a forested area, grew in a more open space. Scott could tell this because of the way they branched. When you see lots of lower branches, it means they were growing when the forest wasn’t yet developed. Instead they were on the edge of the prairie, and the other trees around them grew later.
The grass on the hillside is another clue. Grass doesn’t grow in dense forest, but it is visible on the hillside, another clue that this was once a more open space. Pine Knob is located between two former prairies, Mongoquinong Prairie and Pretty Prairie, and English Prairie was not far away.
A lot of work has been done to restoring the prairie areas in the park. Seeds were collected and the land reseeded, fires were used to control growth as is natural in prairies, and what once was a cornfield should be abloom in native prairie flowers in June and July.
Meteer Lake is one of many lakes in Northeast Indiana, almost all of which are thanks to the glaciers from 14,000 years ago. Meteer Lake is a kettle lake, formed when a chunk of ice broke off the glacier and was buried and slowly melted. Scientists think that the glaciers that covered our area were up to a mile thick! As the glaciers retreated to the north they left behind glacial till, the kind of soil we find in many places in the county, and some large rocks that aren’t supposed to be here, but were pushed down from the north when the glaciers advanced.
A swamp and a marsh are two types of wetland, the difference being the types of plants that grow in them. Swamps have trees and woody growth, while marshes have more grasses and non-woody plants. Last week’s rain went a long way to restoring the marsh and swamp areas of Pine Knob, and the frogs were singing praise to the rains as we walked along. We heard midland chorus frogs and also wood frogs, each with its own distinctive call. They didn’t seem to mind our presence much as they set up quite the concert for us.
We also encountered a number of garter snakes out enjoying the sun. However, they were rather sluggish due to the cool temperatures, but that just made for great photo opportunities. (On the way home we saw three turtles out sunning on a log, too. More signs of spring!)
The first wildflowers were up. The skunk cabbage was still blooming and now the leaves were visible, but still small and curled up tightly. The dainty little lavender hepatica (also called liverwort because of the shape of the leaves) were nodding in the breeze in among the trees. The flowers show up before their leaves, but we also saw a few leaves popping up.
It was a very pleasant way for the Friends of the LaGrange County Parks to start a new year, to appreciate what we have here, and to work to support our parks and programs and encourage their use.
And by the way, I did finally see a loon on the Twin Lakes, but more about that next week.