Walking in Beauty
October 11, 2023
Selfie station at Brennan Woods
Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy joined a statewide effort to highlight the importance of wetlands, erecting a selfie station at the fen overlook in Brennan Woods.
You can pose in the brightly colored frame provided by Indiana Land Protection Alliance on the east side of the woods. Then, you can send that photo your local legislators, who may find themselves voting on wetlands deregulation during next year’s short session.
ILPA is making the outreach easy at www.protectindianaland.org/indiana-wetlands-challenge/. After taking your photo, enter your address and zip code on the web site and hit “go.” Your elected officials – Gov. Eric Holcomb, and for those that live locally, Sen. Sue Glick of LaGrange County and Rep. Denny Zent of Lake James – will receive a postcard after you download the photo and answer a quick series of questions. You will also have a chance to send a personal message to your legislators, explaining why you believe wetlands should be protected.
As nonprofit organizations, ILPA and the Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy are not overly involved in political lobbying. But they care.
“With a personal photo and a positive message, your postcard will tell your elected officials that you care about wetland conservation in Indiana,” says ILPA.
Those who enjoy the selfie station at Brennan Woods can go farther and participate in the Indiana Wetlands Challenge. ILPA published a guide to wetlands across the state involved in the Challenge. There are 13 in northeastern Indiana – six of them in Steuben County.
Along with the selfie station, an informational sign has been posted near the trailhead to Brennan Woods, explaining the value of wetlands.
A federal law change this year removed protections from all waters that do not directly share surface water with a river or lake. In 2021, Indiana loosened permitting for wetlands destruction along with ending compensatory mitigation, which requires those who cause environmental damage to remunerate society. That legislation spared Class III wetlands. Class III wetlands are defined by the state as “rare and ecologically important” land types, which include fens, bogs, seeps, sedge meadows and swamps.
Northeastern Indiana would be the big loser if Hoosier wetlands were deemed inconsequential. A 1991 wetland map created for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows the state’s wetlands concentrated in an area that includes most of Steuben and LaGrange counties, stretching south to Fort Wayne and west to South Bend.
The Clear Lake Nature Preserve fen selfie station and accompanying educational efforts show state administrators and the people who elected them how critical wetlands protections can be.
Fens require thousands of years to develop and cannot easily be restored once destroyed, according to the U.S. Forest Service. They are formed by slowly-flowing, mineral-rich groundwater at or below the soil surface and are hotspots of biodiversity, often harboring rare plants. Wetlands provide great volumes of food that attract many animals, and they provide shelter for 50% of species with small or declining populations in Indiana.
In the 1950s, a channel was excavated through the now protected fen at Clear Lake Nature Preserve. At one time, skiiers cruised through the channel from one part of the lake to the other, and some houses were built in the fen.
Those activities ceased decades ago and the Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy has a long-range plan to restore the fen. The work started in 2014 following the establishment of the 25-acre Brennan Woods, which contains several wetland areas. From the glacially created hills on the eastern side of Brennan Woods, the panorama drops around 35 feet to the fen, bordered to the north by the Clear Lake Yacht Club tennis courts.
Blue Heron Ministries has contracted over the years with the Conservancy to control invasive plants in the fen. Through a volunteer effort, an assortment of grasses and forbs were planted in February 2019. Blue Heron Ministries Executive Director Nate Simons said progress has been slow and a sprawling patch of stinging nettle has taken over where wet prairie plants are desired.
While more work needs to be done to restore the natural area, it glows with golden yellows as the lush green treeline slowly takes on brilliant fall colors. It’s a stunning backdrop for a selfie.