Shirley Heinze Land Trust will host an educational bus tour of its nature preserves on Saturday, April 20, 2019, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. During the ride, participants will learn about the unique ecology, geology, and history of northwestern Indiana and will see and hear about the results of the land conservation, public access, and restoration work being accomplished by the organization and its partners.
Eleven of the organization’s nature preserves are included on the tour through Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties. The bus will make brief stops at six preserves. The bus will depart promptly at 8:00 a.m. from the Meadowbrook Conservation Center and Nature Preserve located at 109 W. 700 North, Valparaiso, IN.
The morning itinerary will begin with a stop at John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve in Portage for a brief hike. This 94-acre state-dedicated nature preserve features a variety of habitats including oak savanna, sand prairie and interdunal wetlands. Despite a portion of the property being sand mined in the 1930s, the preserve recovered and is home to a wide variety of native plants, wildflowers and wildlife.
The bus will then head to Ivanhoe South Nature Preserve in Gary for another short hike. This 50-acre property, tucked between a residential neighborhood and an industrial area, features globally rare dune and swale topography. Narrow rows of wet swales alongside sandy ridges of oak savanna provide habitat for a variety of native plants, wildflowers and wildlife. The black oak savanna natural community here has recently been significantly restored.
The bus will then travel south to the Hobart Marsh conservation area. On the way, passengers will pass by nature preserves located near I-65, including Hidden Prairie/Ivory Wetlands on the west, and Brinson/Bock Higgins prairies to the east.
The bus will stop for a short hike at Gordon & Faith Greiner Nature Preserve, a 73-acre property that contains a variety of habitat types including sandy dune, oak savanna, wetlands, and a tallgrass prairie restoration.
The bus will then travel back to Meadowbrook Conservation Center and Nature Preserve for lunch in the lodge. A former Girl Scout camp, Meadowbrook is home to the offices of Shirley Heinze Land Trust. Participants will walk a short distance to one of the old lodges for lunch, passing through the moraine forest and crossing a stream along the way. Early spring ephemeral wildflowers may be on display on the forest floor.
The afternoon portion of the tour will focus on preserves in Porter and LaPorte Counties. Along the way, participants will hear about the Little Calumet River Conservation Corridor project and the restoration and public access improvements being performed at preserves along the river.
The bus will drive past Wykes – Plampin Nature Preserve in Chesterton, where a kayak launch was installed last year, then stop for a brief hike at the recently-protected 165-acre Dale B. Engquist Nature Preserve, located along the Little Calumet River, adjacent to Indiana Dunes National Park’s Heron Rookery. Spring wildflowers bloom on the forest floor here, and migratory birds are attracted to its woods and wetlands.
From there the bus will head to Hildebrand Lake in LaPorte County for a final short hike. Hildebrand Lake is not open to the public, so this is a rare opportunity to see this 49-acre complex of forest, kettle lake and marsh habitat. Spring wildflowers are a yearly highlight at this preserve.
On the final leg of the tour, the bus will take a scenic drive through the Great Marsh in Beverly Shores. Herons, egrets, and sandhill cranes can often be seen at this wetland restoration area. The tour will return to Meadowbrook at 3:30 p.m.
The cost for the tour is $40 per person, which includes the lunch. Reservations are required and may be made online by going to , or by calling (219) 242-8558. The deadline for reservations is Monday, April 15, 2019. Payment must be made in advance. Seating is limited, so early reservations are advised. The bus is restroom equipped.
Since 1981, Shirley Heinze Land Trust has protected, restored and maintained northwestern Indiana’s rich and significant natural communities, including tallgrass prairie, high dune, oak savanna, boreal flatwoods, dune-and-swale, woodlands, marshes, swamps, ponds, fens, bogs, and riparian habitat. More than 2,400 acres in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, and St. Joseph Counties have been preserved for the public’s benefit. Shirley Heinze nature preserves feature significant scenic and ecological value, and most are open to the public for hiking and enjoying nature. Six of its properties have been dedicated to the people of Indiana as state nature preserves. The organization also works to educate people of all ages to appreciate the importance of land conservation, and to experience the natural wonders of this unique region. Its work is accomplished through a partnership of volunteers, donors, and professionals.
For more information on the work and nature preserves of Shirley Heinze Land Trust, visit www.heinzetrust.org, call (219) 242-8558, or access its Facebook page.