“The marsh, that can die and yet return to life in the first breath of spring, seems each year to repeat anew to its lovers,” wrote author, naturalist, artist and photographer Gene Stratton-Porter in “Music of the Wild” which was published in 1910. She immortalized the Limberlost Swamp in her novels and nature studies of the early 20th century. For twenty-five years, Gene drew inspiration from the swamp and lived in Geneva at the edge of it. By around 1913, the great swamp that was once 13,000 acres was drained.
Fast forward to the present, there are over 1800 acres of restored wetlands around Geneva that is owned by the Department of Natural Resources and the Friends of the Limberlost. Gene’s fourteen room Queen Anne style cabin, carriage house and visitor center is now the Limberlost State Historic Site. There are separate sections of wetlands. The 460 acres Loblolly Marsh has about 3 miles of walking trails with habitats of prairie, woods and wetlands. On the Adams/Jay County line is the Limberlost Swamp Wetlands Preserve. This spot is great for birding by car. Seen this year in the area were king rails, least bittern, short-billed dowitchers, black-necked stilts and a number of shorebirds. Other wetland restoration projects include Rainbow Bottom, Munro Nature Preserve, Music of the Wild Preserve and the Bird Sanctuary. Around these sites are interpretive signs that include quotes of Gene Stratton-Porter.
Ken Brunswick is the man who had the vision over thirty years ago to restore some of the wetlands in areas that were prone to flood causing loss of crops in the fields. In the beginning, he ran into opposition but slowly won over his detractors. In 1993, he and others founded Limberlost Swamp Remembered, a group that continues to advocate for restoring portions of the original 13,000 acre Limberlost Swamp. In January 2003, the title of east central regional ecologist was created by the Department of Natural Resources for Ken. A title he held until his retirement in December 2013. Limberlost naturalist Curt Burnette called Ken “The Keeper of the Limberlost,” a title that is well deserved. Ken lives in a home that overlooked flood-prone farmland, but thanks to his tireless efforts his home now overlooks the Loblolly Marsh Wetland Preserve. The new east central regional ecologist is Ben Hess. Ben has a vast knowledge of plants, seed propagation, and developing land management plans.
In 1999, Randy Lehman, became the site manager of the Limberlost State Historic Site. His master thesis was on water ecology of the Patoka River in southern Indiana. Randy was a perfect fit at Limberlost, working with Ken and now Ben. Limberlost Swamp Remembered became a committee of the Friends of the Limberlost in 1996 when the first land was purchased for wetland restoration. The Friends group is unique in that it works with the DNR Division of Nature Preserves, and the Indiana State Museum, which owns and manages Limberlost State Historic Site.
Every season has its own charm of flora and fauna. As I’m writing this article, big blue stem grass, goldenrod, sunflowers, prairie dock and asters are in full bloom at the Loblolly. Bees and monarch butterflies were enjoying the fall day. Our native sparrows: field, chipping, and savannah were flitting among the plants. In November, short-eared owls return to spend most of the winter at the Limberlost Swamp Wetlands. In a mild winter, like we had in 2012, over 4,000 waterfowl wintered here, including 72 tundra swans. In February or early March on the first warm day, the spring peepers and chorus frogs will begin singing. “The music of spring begins in the marsh with the frogs,” wrote Gene Stratton-Porter. Limberlost has 9 of the 11 frog species in northern Indiana, including the northern cricket frog.
The Limberlost is getting recognition for being a natural gem of Indiana. The Loblolly Marsh Wetland Preserve became Indiana’s 250th state dedicated preserve in 2012. In 2013, Geneva received Indiana’s first Bird Town designation by the Indiana Audubon Society. The Limberlost bird list is over 200 species in five years.
For those who wish to visit and want a personal tour of the Limberlost wetlands, you can Rent-a-Naturalist for a small fee and hire Limberlost naturalist and program developer Curt Burnette, to show you around the area. Everyone from Red Hat Ladies, Book Clubs and Families has rented Curt. For more information contact Curt at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 260-368-7428.