Hello from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore!

Hello from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore!  About 50 miles southeast of Chicago, the Lakeshore runs 25 miles along Lake Michigan.  I started my internship in July and right away started working with five seasonal staff on wetland restoration. 

A view from the Dunes

 However, before I tell you what I’ve been up to, hearing a brief history of the park makes all our hard work more rewarding.   This park has one of the greatest diversity of plant species in America.  Because of this, the area has always attracted the best scientists, including the famous Henry Cowles.  During the late 1890’s, Henry Cowles studied vegetation succession on the Lake Michigan sand dunes and is still considered a main influence in our ecological studies today.  There is now a wetland named after Henry called Cowles Bog, in which we do a lot of our restoration work.  Yet, because this park is fairly new (It was authorized by Congress in 1966), it has a HUGE problem with invasive species crowding out these wonderful and diverse native plant populations.  Our job is to protect and prevent the invasive species from winning and keep the necessary native habitats sheltered from human destruction. 

Working on identifying plants in the bog

Working on identifying plants in the bog

 Like I said before, I’ve been a part of the wetland restoration project, specifically focused on restoring Cowles bog.  Currently, this once diverse area is covered in cat-tail (the invasive version) and phragmites which shade out any beneficial sedges, grasses and forbs.  To began, we apply herbicide to the invasive plants.  Then by pushing the dead cat-tail down, we can suppress the seed bank until replanting the area.  The whole processes of getting these native plants into the ground requires time spent seed collecting, seed cleaning, propagation and finally transplanting them in our greenhouse and then planting them in our recently cleared sites.  It is quite labor intensive (walking through very mucky areas with heavy equipment and often hot weather in the summer) but our group tends to make jokes out of the situations and we laugh a lot.  And seeing the results after planting a cleared area, either with brush cutters or herbicide, is rewarding.  Immediate results are not always visible, however, and this was something I struggled with at the beginning.  Now I understand how important each little advance is and that restoration work takes time.  A lot of time!  This restoration plan for Cowles bog is scheduled to take anywhere from 10-15 years and even then it will still need to be monitored.  One of the biggest challenges for this park is the amount of invasive species that are encroaching along the park’s many boundaries and it has been rewarding to help restore the park’s original flora.Going into the cat-tail of no return!

 Variety is always important with field work and luckily we have had plenty to keep us busy.  I’ve also been participating in many other restoration initiatives, including work in a wetland called The Great Marsh.  This area was historically stretched for miles parallel to the lake but because of urbanization and damming, much of the marsh was lost.  We have maintained old home sites that have been recently torn down, as well as done invasive plant removal along roadsides of the marsh to allow visitors to see our luscious native plant populations and animals.  The park’s resource management (which I work with) also has a prairie restoration team which I’ve helped collect seed for and assisted with monitoring rare plant species.  This past August, I got to take a trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the upper peninsula of Michigan to assist in a research project that included identifying cat-tail species genetically to track the invasive trends of Typha angustifolia.  This research project involved setting up transects, collecting cat-tail samples, measuring height and width of selected plants and collecting soil samples to identify what was in the site’s seed bank.  Seeing another lakeshore was not only a learning experience (for something to compare Indiana with) but also extremely fun and beautiful!
Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

 Overall it has been a great experience working for the National Park Service, not only because I get to live in a beautiful area with freshwater beaches! But also to learn about how this organization operates and the difficulties they face with the public and with funding to continue to preserve the magnificent population of plants and animals.  I get to live in a National Park house not far from work, and recently just got two roommates from the SCA program that are going to take the place of the seasonal employees who sadly just ended their part last week.  I’m excited for the new adventures and slightly different tasks that we will be concentrating on. 

The seasonals

The seasonals

 

Checking some water depths

Checking some water depths

 

 

 

 Good Luck Everyone!

Christy Goff, NPS, Indiana Dunes, IN

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