Outdoor Indiana - July/August 2017 - Featured Stories
VOLUNTEER TEAM HELPS DNR DELIVER
Just under 1,200 people work full time for the DNR. We also have an intermittent workforce that peaks around 1,250 with about 1,100 of those hired in the spring to assist with the busy summer recreation season.
But there's another segment of our team that performs a vital service to the DNR.
They pick up litter, groom trails, remove invasive plants, conduct fish and wildlife surveys, plant trees, tend flowerbeds, sort recyclables, clean up ponds and beaches, assist or lead nature programs, and even write grant applications.
It's an exhausting list of contributions by people whose time and talent help finish projects that might otherwise be delayed.
In 2016, DNR State Parks had nearly 10,000 volunteers log more than 104,000 hours of service. DNR Fish & Wildlife had 1,335 volunteers who adopted public access sites, built fish habitat structures, conducted weekly waterfowl surveys, or installed bat houses on its properties.
Other DNR divisions have their share of helpers, too.
One way to measure the impact is financially. The combined monetary value of our volunteers' work approaches $2.6 million, according to a formula used by online volunteer support groups.
But it's more than mere dollars as far as we're concerned.
We see friendships formed. We see individual and corporate responsibility at play. We see a stronger bond between these hard-working patrons and the DNR properties and programs they support.
It's a true win-win. To join them, visit dnr.IN.gov/3235.htm.
A new generation falls in love with outdoor theaters
By Nick Werner, OI staff
On a September evening last year, Josh and Teryn McGlothlin cuddled in the back of their Ford F-150 pickup truck, waiting for nightfall.
Comforted by an air mattress, the young couple played with their Boston terrier, Kingsley.
"He's so excited to be here," Teryn said of their dog. "He comes every time."
The trio were at Starlite Drive-In theater south of Bloomington to see a double-feature of thrillers, "Nerve" and "Don't Breathe." The McGlothlins said they appreciated being able to re-create their living room in the bed of their pickup truck, bring their pup and enjoy a movie under the stars.
"It's romantic watching a scary movie outside," Teryn said.
Drive-in theaters became an icon of 1950s and 1960s entertainment by combining two of the country's biggest passions: cars and movies. At drive-ins, many members of the country's largest generation, the Baby Boomers, watched their first movie from the family station wagon, scored their first kiss and learned to navigate the teenage dating scene.
But in the decades that followed, drive-ins seemed destined to fade alongside tailfins on cars, surf music and other post-war trends.
In 1958, drive-ins numbered 4,063 nationwide. Today, an estimated 324 drive-ins remain, according to the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association (UDITOA).
The loss is staggering, but many remaining owners are optimistic the nosedive has reached bottom.
While no one expects to return to the boom days, the bust seems to have ended. The industry has entered an era of sustainability, if not limited growth. According to UDITOA, since the 1990s, 42 new drive-ins have been built nationwide, and 63 have re-opened after being closed.
Cutline: Children blow bubbles while waiting for the show on a hot summer night at Valparaiso's 49er Drive-In. When the 49er opened in 1956, there were more than 4,000 drive-ins. Now there are only about 300.
Telling the Grand Kankakee Marsh story helps restore it
By Nick Werner, OI staff
Photography by Frank Oliver
After the downpour ceased, four women in bonnets and long dresses sang frontier-era folk songs in French.
Do they know? John Hodson wondered.
Probably not, he decided.
Wearing a poncho and ball cap, he stood under a canopy tent. The structure served as headquarters for the 2016 Aukiki River Festival. Hodson, age 66, organized the event. Back-to-back waves of thunderstorms had scattered most visitors. But the weather created time for Hodson's favorite activity—one-on-one storytelling about the history of the surrounding area.
The Kankakee River valley.
Since 2009, the summer festival in rural Kouts in northwest Indiana has beckoned historic re-enactors from across the Midwest. They gather for a weekend of camping, cooking and portraying traditional ways of life.
"Aukiki" is the Potawatomi name for the Kankakee River. Some say it meant "beautiful river."
The tribe's members were among many who revered the Kankakee and its surroundings.
For thousands of years, the wild and winding river wove together a half-million acres of wetlands. The Grand Kankakee Marsh was one of the largest freshwater wetland complexes in the United States, the "Everglades of the North." Animals embraced the charm of the sluggish river and its bottomlands. The marsh supported some of the densest concentrations of wildlife on the planet.
To this day, many do not know of the marsh, let alone its importance. Even some of the re-enactors who attend Aukiki are unaware, Hodson said.
But a century later, the Kankakee's story is rising from the ground like a ghost in a cemetery, searching for answers about its demise. The spirit of the marsh has benefited from cold-case conservationists like Hodson. Archaeologists, farmers, hunters and even filmmakers have also played a role. Together, they are re-examining the region's history, hoping to correct past mistakes. Their methods include creation of public awareness, as well as land preservation, wetland restoration and conservation agriculture.
Cutline: LaSalle Fish & Wildlife Area's hardwood forests, fields and marshes were once part of Grand Kankakee Marsh.
Handheld gadgets and smartphones can encourage nature interaction
By DNR staff
Photography by Frank Oliver
Kate Bell has geocached since 2002, and the hobby has taken her to remote parts of Utah, Wyoming and Georgia.
"It's treasure hunting," she said. "What's not to like?"
But it wasn't until this past spring that she searched for caches at Mounds State Park, just a half-hour drive from her rural Henry County home.
Sporadic rain dropped from a morning sky full of sunshine. Bell wore a purple windbreaker, blue jeans and a vintage khaki-colored canvas backpack. With her long, grayish blonde hair and outdoor apparel, she looked the part of a yoga-practicing "hippy-dippy granola chick," which is how she jokingly described herself.
Standing on the sidewalk in front of the park's nature center, Bell clicked on a cache called "Mystery Cave," one of four official caches permitted by park staff, and set off on her treasure hunt.
Geocaching combines two elements of Bell's personality: She is a tech-savvy accounting software specialist who also happens to be a certified master naturalist, certified master gardener and state parks volunteer. Whereas some geocachers use a handheld GPS unit, Bell uses an app on her iPhone that maps nearby caches, contains navigational tools and allows her to log her finds and share information.
For some purists, bringing a potentially distracting electronic device on a hike, hunt or camping trip may seem antithetical to experiencing nature. The likes of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau would be rolling in their graves to witness the convergence of wireless technology in a wilderness setting.
Or would they?
Cutline: Adults and children take part in a well-attended Pokémon GO hike at Indiana Dunes State Park last year. The event combined electronics and nature learning.