Residents and nature lovers in northwest Indiana can enjoy a refurbished natural playground thanks to a recently completed wetlands project at Beaver Dam Wetland Conservation Area and Deep River Headwaters.
The project on the 257-acre conservation area was completed in multiple phases over nearly a decade by Ducks Unlimited and the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
The property, located two miles west of Crown Point, Ind., is a true urban refuge and is open to the public for recreational activities, hiking and bird watching.
"There's a benefit to having this large natural area in middle of urban area," said Mike Sertle, Ducks Unlimited Indiana regional biologist. "That area of Indiana has so much development. It's great for people around there to have the opportunity to see these wonders of nature."
Ducks Unlimited oversaw the 82-acre wetland restoration component of the project, which included constructing dikes and water control structures, and Lake County Parks and Recreation oversaw the restoration of the adjacent upland prairie and oak savanna.
Lake County Parks and Recreation Department funded the project and owns the property. It will manage the site to provide habitat attractive to breeding and migrating waterfowl, birds and other wildlife, including some federal and state threatened and endangered species. Specifically, wetland water levels will be managed to promote a diversity of wetland habitats, from semi-permanent marsh to seasonally flooded forest.
Since pre-settlement, Indiana has lost 85% of its original wetlands and much of the remaining wetlands are highly degraded. This part of Indiana has seen land use steadily shift from a rural setting to urban setting.
"In an area that was historically marshes, having these hidden complexes of wetlands provides the important stopover point that our waterfowl need as settle in to nest and raise a brood, or migrate on through our state," Sertle said.
Aside from waterfowl and recreational opportunities, the wetland restoration project and vegetation planting has a profound impact on downstream water quality. With its location within the Lake Michigan watershed, this project helps improve water quality in the Great Lakes. Local water quality benefits include reduction in wind and water soil erosion, sedimentation, non-point source pollution and nutrient loading.