ELKHART — A floating boardwalk has been installed at the Elkhart Bog Nature Preserve, 51455 C.R. 15.

The trail and boardwalk are designed to be accessible to anyone and pass through restored woodland and prairie to a plastic floating boardwalk, which extends over 200 feet out into the wetland or bog.

“This is a way that people can come out and appreciate this area without damaging the area, because it is a delicate area, or having to wade through deep mud,” said Rich Dunbar, Regional Ecologist for the Northeast Region of the Department of Natural Resources Division of Nature Preserves.

Dunbar led a tour of the trail and bog following the dedication where he explained that the boardwalk floats because solid land is nearly 900 feet below the surface of the wetland area. The bog is a glimpse into the history of Indiana and an example of Indiana’s natural landscape.

“When the glaciers retreated, they would have left a lake here, and then gradually over time, sphagnum and plant roots have grown out over the top of this so that this, what you’re looking at is growing on a network of roots,” Dunbar explained. “Like, a river, where water is constantly flowing, you wouldn’t tend to have a floating mat develop over it.”

Over 300 acres of natural area, about 230 acres dedicated as a state nature preserve.

In 1990, 20 acres of the land were donated. Since then, several landowners have donated portions of land for the project, as the bog’s land was gradually collected by the DNR for preservation.

“We’re in the business of trying to preserve examples of what Indiana was originally like,” Dunbar said of the DNR Division of Nature Preserves.

The wetland at Elkhart Bog is a specific type, known as a circumneutral bog. It is a spring-fed water body occurring over chalk or limestone foundation, that supports vegetation of acidic bogs and calcareous (chalky) marshes.

At one point, Dunbar explained, one of the landowners had attempted to drain it, but the bog kept on.

“The hydrology of these areas is pretty complicated, and a lot of it we really don’t understand,” he admitted. “Basically it has to be still water, but you would actually find floating mat barges around most lakes in Indiana that are natural lakes that are relatively undisturbed.”

Over time, left undisturbed, any lake can grow into a bog. The floating mat at the Elkhart Bog is about 60 acres.

“Probably half of Indiana was ponded at least part of the year,” Dunbar continued. “Drainage has definitely changed the face of what Indiana looks like.”

The bog, which has been a work in progress since the 1980s, is owned and maintained primarily by the DNR, although the Elkhart County Parks Department also helps to support the removal of invasive species.

“This project is the culmination of about three years of work on the ground, and countless years and hours of work and planning including the restored prairie area,” said Laura Minzes, DNR Nature Preserves Operations and Contract manager. “Especially by those who envisioned for all to enjoy this unique area back when the property first because part of the DNR Division of Nature Preserves.”

During the dedication ceremony Thursday, several DNR leaders and local legislators spoke on the value of the bog to the Elkhart community.

“Elkhart County has an awful lot going on and we can see with this dedication this morning that we’re actually living in harmony with agriculture, with industrial ground, and now with Mother Nature itself,” said Indiana House District 48 Rep. Doug Miller, who is also a neighbor of the property. “When you think about the symbiotic relationships that actually occur and the efforts of many over the years, I think this is just living proof that as long as we take care of nature, nature will take care of us.”

DNR Director of Nature Preserves Ron Hellmich explained that 26 species considered rare in Indiana including plants, turtles, birds and insects call the bog home.

“This place is one of the most outstanding examples of this natural community in Indiana,” he said.

The DNR led a search to find and preserve places like it.

“For thousands of years, sphagnum moss and other plant-life have grown here on an old glacial lake, creating a flowing mat of organic peat that characterizes bog communities,” Hellmich added. “Nutrients are scarce in the acidic environment, so the plants had to be adapted to these extreme conditions.”

Such examples are carnivorous plants like sundews and pitcher plants, which aren’t visible on the trail but are known to exist in the bog’s extensive acreage. They trap insects in addition to extracting nutrients from peat, to supplement their diet.

Joseph Weiser is a photojournalist for The Goshen News. Contact him at joseph.weiser@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2349 or (cell) 574-202-8479.

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