Wetlands deserve respect, protection

The last time we discussed wetlands, we talked about the types, how to tell them apart and their uses.

Now we’re going to talk about the wetlands of Indiana, Hancock County and the Greenfield parks department.

To start off, between 1799 and 1834, there was a wetland survey done for Indiana.

In that survey, they found that there was 5.6 million acres of wetlands in the state.

The northwestern area was mostly prairie, while the northeastern was more often swamps or bogs.

In 1816, about half the surface of northwestern Indiana was ponded for about six months of the year. Benton County was almost half wetland, while in Newton County, Beaver Lake covered about 28,500 acres. By 1917, it was down to 10,000 acres.

Around 1916, the Kankakee River area was seeing major changes, being dredged, straightened, drained, tiled and ditched. As a result, Beaver Lake now exists in name only.

In the latest survey, they found 813,000 acres of wetlands in Indiana, which means a net loss of 85 percent of our wetlands. Why were all these wetlands removed? They were dried up for farm land.

Now, I don’t fault the people back then for doing this. They were trying to make a living and raise families, and they didn’t know any better.

Nowadays, when we remove a wetland for an office building, hotel or a mall, it does honk me off a bit (even though the law is that when you remove a wetland for a project you have to build a replacement — as if man could improve on Mother Nature). OK, off my soapbox.

Hancock County is comprised of about 196,480 acres of which 3,305 acres are wetlands. This makes Hancock County 72nd in the state (as of 1987). Included in this are forested wetlands of 2,447 acres; the rest are divided among scrub-shrub, wet meadow, shallow marsh, deep marsh, open water and deep-water habitats.

So let’s talk about the parks and recreation departments’ wetlands. The parks department has around 243 acres in the total park system with 14 areas of wetlands within them.

Beckenholdt Park has three wetland areas, the fishing pond in the middle and the seasonal wetlands to the east, and in the west are other wetlands (behind the water department, no connection). There is water standing in the east part of the year, mostly in early spring. (Oh and by the way, there is no swimming allowed in the lake. It is posted.)

Riley Park has Brandywine Creek that flows through it. I have been told by engineers that this is one of, if not the slowest, moving creek in the state.

Brandywine Park has Brandywine Creek running down the west side of it and occasionally flooding it.

Wilson Park on the north side also shares Brandywine Creek with Riley and Brandywine. It also has a man-made wetland.

Macy Park has the headwaters of The Little Brandywine forming its west border.

The Pennsy Trail runs second to our parks with wetlands, not only with both Brandywines but at least three drainage ditches. It also has a wetland next to it, but you can’t get there because of the fence, and it’s private property.

Thornwood Nature Preserve not only has the Little Brandywine flowing through it but also two farmland drainage ditches. On top of that, we also have six other places that retain water after a rain, three of which may be vernal pools.

So, the parks department has its share of wetlands that need to be cared for and protected. You can do your share by keeping trash out of these areas and being careful where you walk.

Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. He can be reached at cecum2@hotmail.