- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

CHESTERTON, Ind. (AP) - Petite white and pink wildflowers are just starting to open in local wooded areas, along with the speckled leaves of trilliums. They promise a showy fairy tale scene as the weeks approach.

But in Chesterton, Ind., strange flowers have poked their heads through the edges of a rustic wetland that volunteers have turned into the Westchester Migratory Bird Sanctuary: bottles, cans and rusty bits of mysterious trash.

Volunteers found a way to control the refuse of this former town dump. They’ve built a gabion wall, which is like a cage filled with stone, to let the water filter into the wetland while keeping the trash on shore and under the ground. Volunteers also keep adding a blanket of soil to cover up the trash.

This is a work in progress, and the payoff so far is the sight of heron, ducks, American kestrels, hawks, sandhill cranes and bluebirds.

On Saturday, the public is invited to come to the sanctuary and learn how to remove invasive plants - and even help to do so - another one of the site’s challenges. The Migratory Bird Festival and Stewardship Day will also have local experts you can chat with about migratory birds. You may bring home a bluebird house kit or a native plant. Lunch will be provided.

I stopped by the sanctuary last spring and found Terry Hoover, a volunteer who does much of the backhoe work. The place didn’t offer much for the public other than a gravel parking lot. Since then, he says, a picnic shelter has been built along with a quarter-mile dirt trail through a wooded area with maple, oak and cherry trees. This year volunteers hope to add small, handicap-accessible platforms and another three-tenths mile of trail, leading to a 2.5-acre lake that a homeowners association donated last year.

Beyond that, volunteers hope to build a more prominent viewing platform.

For now, they are literally tackling invasive plants that have sprawled across the 35-acre wetland: phragmites, reed canary grass and a nonnative species of cattail. The volunteers use an amphibious all-terrain vehicle to drive over and mash down the plants before they can sprout new seeds. It will take years, Hoover says, but the aim is to deplete whatever seeds the plants have deposited.

Starting Monday, you may run into volunteers asking you to take a survey along nine trails across Indiana, including three in Michiana. They’ll ask about the ways you use the trail and its effect on your health, from sleep to exercise habits, along with how it causes you to spend money, like on food and beverages, says Layne Elliott, project manager for the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

The point of the survey, Elliott says, is “to show that trails are a worthwhile investment.”

By proving a positive impact on personal health and the economy, he says, the results will be used to push for more trails and trail funding. It follows a similar trail study in 2001 that didn’t include the health-related questions.

You’ll find the volunteers at key stops along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail between Goshen and Shipshewana, on the Nickel Plate Trail between Rochester and Kokomo, and on the Erie-Lackawanna Trail between Crown Point, Ind., and Calumet City, Ind.

They’ll wear bright yellow vests that say “Indiana trail study” and be next to a yellow sign that says “trail study in progress,” with the IU logo, Elliott says.

They’ll be out for seven days starting Monday, then return for a week each in June, August and October.

Volunteers will come from local trail organizations, he says. They will also do surveys in Indiana on the Rivergreenway Trail in Fort Wayne, the Monon Trail between Indianapolis and Carmel, the Cardinal Greenway from Marion to Richmond, the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage in Evansville, the People Trail in Columbus and the B-Line Trail in Bloomington.

For comparison, volunteers will conduct the same survey at public sites away from the trails, like at grocery stores, too. And later this year, surveyors will also ask property owners near the trails about their perceptions of crime and property values.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/2oJE9P7

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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