After visiting the new Maintenance Building and dining on a scrumptious meal courtesy of the Palmer House of Berne, the Friends held their Board Election. Carl Yoder was presented with the Limberlost Service Award for serving on the Board for the maximum allowable amount of time (9 years). With a mixture of new and familiar faces, the newly elected Board stands ready to take on the exciting challenges of the coming year.
We heard from Ben Hess about the beautiful new trails that will allow visitors to see some of the most diverse habitats in the area, particularly in the Music of the Wild, Bird Sanctuary, and County Line Road areas. He has worked tirelessly to install the trails, the final touches of which were completed on Thursday. Do be sure to check them out! We also saw the new property boundary signs that will assist conservation officers in keeping hunters, horses, and other violators from inappropriate use of the property.
The Friends have become members of the Indiana Parks Alliance that offers grants, assistance with trail projects, and provides more widespread visibility. New benches have been installed for the comfort of visitors, and progress is being made to pursue the 39 acres around White Oak Cemetery. This area is unusual for many reasons, not the least of which is the presence of the rarely seen Firepink Shooting Star, a beautiful wildflower with five brilliant crimson petals that end in sharp notches.
Randy Lehman showered us in good news! Not including the volunteer hours on the DNR side of the park, we've had 1788 volunteer hours in 2014 and 1640 hours in 2015! The number of Facebook followers has risen by about 60% largely due to the efforts of Terri Gorney. Her interesting and timely posts have attracted the attention of about 300 new people in a very short period of time.
The attendance at Limberlost events has continued to grow. The three Jamborees brought 526 people to the site, 275 came for the egg hunt, 113 attended on July 4th, 85 came for the Christmas event, and 70 attended the Peregrine Falcon program. About 200 schoolchildren will be visiting in October, a large crowd is expected for the final leg of the Jay County 5K series which ends at Limberlost with an awards ceremony, and many people are expected at the Animalia creature feature sponsored by Bixler Insurance.
An historic 2.5 ton safe from the Bank of Geneva is on display in the Visitor's Center. This ornate treasure has been a popular attraction! Another new attraction is in the works. A slice of the trunk from a very old Ash tree (attacked by Emerald Ash Borer) was spared from the wood chipper thanks to Randy's quick thinking. He plans to label the growth rings to create a timeline of Gene's life.
The website (Limberlost.weebly.com) has continued to grow thanks to our webmasters: 16-year old Alexandra Forsythe and her 18-year old brother Scott Forsythe. Alex has been performing the day-to-day operations while Scott has been working on the Teacher's Resources section.
Literary talent reigns supreme amongst the Friends! Curt Burnette, Bill Hubbard and Terri Gorney have all written books. Each has a different flavor, from hilarious anecdotes and outstanding photography to moving words from previously unknown naturalists. The books are available in the gift shop and would make the perfect Christmas presents to anyone with an appreciation of the natural world. Curt also has monthly column called "Limberlost Notebook" in the Berne Tri-Weekly Newspaper that are must reads.
Curt gave the Friends a spectacular slide show of the "Little Known Limberlost". Curt has ventured more deeply into the Limberlost than most of us dare, and he showed us his photos of the Heron Rookery, huge Sycamore trees with trunks so large you'd think they were Redwoods, minks with luxurious coats, and graceful Tundra Swans that number in the 70s. The final "Hidden Place" he shared was from the Indiana State Fair, where he spotted a veterinary science 4-H project by our own Alexandra Forsythe which had won the Grand Champion Sweepstakes for all age groups at the state level.
Terri Gorney has been as busy as ever this year! She received a $1,000.00 INPAWS grant for Limberlost for the planting of native plants. Grants are difficult to come by these days and competition is fierce, so the receipt of any grant money is testament to Terri's hard work and her ability to convince organizations of Limberlost's worthy causes. In addition, she has written numerous newspaper articles (including Angola, Auburn, Kendallville, Lagrange) about the area and its historic naturalists, she has spoken at the Berne Chamber Women's Annual Breakfast, and she participated in the FrogWatch USA study during which she discovered 10 of the 11 species of frogs thriving in the area. It is unusual to find an area with so many frog species, and it's a sign that the Limberlost ecosystems are healthy.
Terri has organized bird counts in Limberlost for the Audubon Christmas and May Day events (103 bird species seen in a matter of hours!) and she has kept a list of rare birds that visit the Limberlost. Many birds that disappeared for decades have recently returned to the area thanks to the restoration of the Limberlost. The Friends can take pride that due to their efforts, many of Gene's favorite birds can now be seen here again, and they are attracting many new visitors to the area. Rarities such as the Yellow-headed Blackbird and Glossy Ibis brought birders in from far and wide.
Some of the most unexpected surprises came during Scott Forsythe's presentation. Scott is developing an app for Android and Apple devices: Birding with Gene Stratton-Porter at Limberlost. The app will contain information about Limberlost, include maps and GPS directions, and a link to our Events page. All of the commonly seen birds will be included. For each bird, there will be a photo, description, season and location within Limberlost where you're most likely to see the bird, and a quote from Gene Stratton-Porter herself about that particular bird or its habitat. "I wanted to honor Gene by creating an app that allows people to feel as if they are birding alongside Gene, with Gene herself describing the bird to them in her own poetic words." The app should be ready in time for the bicentennial. At the end of his presentation, Scott gave a heartfelt thank you to his mentor Terri for her support, he thanked Randy, Curt, Bill and Ben for their help, and he thanked his sister Alex for her birding knowledge and photography.
After Scott's talk, Perry Hammock, executive director of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, surprised Scott by presenting him with the Bicentennial Legacy Project Seal, indicating that the app has been approved as an official Bicentennial project. Seconds later, Natanja Tabb from Nordstrom presented Scott with a Macbook Air and a huge 3-foot scholarship check in the amount of $10,000.00! Thousands of students were considered for this national award, but the scholarship committee was impressed with Scott's grades and test scores (top 2% in the nation), dedication to community service (in addition to his work with Limberlost and his volunteer work for other organizations, Scott runs a global nonprofit that benefits learning disabled children and annually hosts the only dyslexia conference in northeast Indiana). Scott will be entering college next fall and majoring in computer engineering.
Topping off a sweet evening were tasty cupcakes, courtesy of Nordstrom. It was a memorable night, full of excitement, surprises, and the promise of a fantastic coming year!