VIDEO and PHOTOS: Fort Wayne conservation organizations to celebrate World Wetlands Day on Feb. 2 with special events

Seasonal wetlands like this one in Mengerson Nature Preserve off Stellhorn Road fill with water in late winter and typically dry up by late summer or early fall. Their limited time containing water creates habitat for a unique community of plants, animals and insects. (Bu Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
A sign along Stellhorn Road marks the entry drive and small parking lot for Mengerson Nature Preserve, which is owned and managed by ACRES Land Trust. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Mengerson Nature Preserve conserves forest and seasonal wetlands within eyesight the commercial development at Stellhorn and Maplecrest roads. The property is owned and managed by ACRES Land Trust. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

Fort Wayne conservation organizations will celebrate World Wetlands Day on Feb. 2 with four activities open to the public and spaced throughout the day – two outdoor hikes and two indoor educational programs.

“This year, we wanted to have a whole day of events,” said Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs at Little River Wetlands Project (LRWP), one the participating organizations.

The other conservation organizations involved are ACRES Land Trust, Allen County Parks and Recreation Department and the Environmental Resources Center at IPFW. This is the first year local conservation organizations have coordinated their events on World Wetlands Day.

The groups don’t expect people to attend every event (see schedule below), but they wanted to offer activities at various times and locations throughout the day to make them more accessible to people, said Yankowiak, who will speak on “Secrets of a Wetland: Keeping Your City Clean and Green” at 1 p.m. at the Aboite branch of the Allen County Public Library.

The theme for this year’s World Wetlands Day is “Wetlands for a sustainable urban future,” a topic that fits well with conservation work around Fort Wayne, she said.

LRWP protects about 756 acres of wetlands at Eagle Marsh on the southwest side of Fort Wayne. The location ranks as one of the largest — if not the largest —

restored wetlands areas in an urban setting in the Midwest, Yankowiak said.

The city of Fort Wayne also has a large wetland at the Camp Scott area, and there are wetlands at Allen County Parks properties and ACRES Land Trust nature preserves.

From the days of pioneer settlers to the present, some people have viewed wetlands as wastelands and worked to drain them, Yankowiak said. But wetlands perform vital roles in nature, including holding rain run-off and filtering soil particles and pollution from it and also providing habitat for a wide range of plants, animals and insects.

“Wetlands are kind of the kidney of our entire ecosystem, our entire water system,” she said.

Some estimates indicate wetlands once covered about 25 percent of Indiana, ranging from small pockets of wet ground to huge expanses such as the Black Swamp, said Bruce Kingsbury, a professor of biology at IPFW and director of the university’s Environmental Resources Center.

The Black Swamp, which has been mostly drained, once stretched from eastern Allen County through a wide swath of northwest Ohio to Lake Erie.

Researchers estimate 95 percent of Indiana’s original wetlands have been drained and the land converted to farming, residential or commercial uses, Kingsbury said.

Surviving and restored wetlands vary from those that hold water year-round, such as LRWP’s Eagle Marsh, to ephemeral, or seasonal, wetlands that contain water only from late winter into summer. Kingsbury will speak on the latter, “Ephemeral Wetlands: Jewels in the Forest,” at 7 p.m. at J.K. O’Donnell’s restaurant in downtown Fort Wayne.

Seasonal wetlands are especially important habitats because they allow amphibians, such as frogs, toads and salamanders, to lay eggs in wetlands where fish won’t eat their babies, Kingsbury said. Fish can’t survive in seasonal wetlands because the water dries up in late summer or early fall.

WORLD WETLANDS DAY

WHAT: Four Fort Wayne conservation organizations will celebrate World Wetland Day with a series of events for the public.

WHEN: All events take place Feb. 2.

WHERE:

• 10 a.m.: World Wetlands Day walk at Fox Island County Park, 7324 Yohne Road, hosted by Allen County Parks and Recreation Department. Park admission is $2 per person.

• 1 p.m.: A program on “Secrets of a Wetland: Keeping Your City Clean and Green” at the Allen County Public Library’s Aboite branch, 5630 Coventry Lane, presented by Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs at Little River Wetlands Project.

• 4 p.m.: Urban wetland hike at Mengerson Nature Preserve, 5895 Stellhorn Road, on the north side of the road between Reed and Maplecrest roads. Hike hosted by ACRES Land Trust.

• 7 p.m.: A program on “Ephemeral Wetlands: Jewels in the Forest” at J.K. O’Donnell’s restaurant, 121 W. Wayne St., presented by Bruce Kingsbury, a professor of biology at IPFW and the director of the university’s Environmental Resources Center. People are encouraged to come early and eat or to enjoy food or drinks during the presentation.

LEARN MORE

World Wetlands Day is celebrated under the leadership of the Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental collaboration also known as the Ramsar Convention, a news release said. For more information, go to www.worldwetlandsday.org.

COMMENTS