21Country: From farmland to nature preserves, the mission of Little River Wetlands Project

Building ecosystems and restoring Indiana’s natural landscape
Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 11:20 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) - Just outside of Fort Wayne’s urban landscape, you’ll find lush oases home to thousands of native plants and wildlife. And though once natural to Indiana’s ecosystem, these nature preserves have been re-built from the farms they once were, after human settlers. Behind the ambitious feat: the Little River Wetlands Project (LRWP).

“It began in 1990 by a group of concerned residents here in Allen County, that were worried about 85% of Indiana’s wetland loss at the time,” Executive Director Amy Silva explained. “Wetlands are the kidneys of our community and they will tell you whether or not you have good water quality.” She told us, LRWP has a two-pronged mission: restoration and protection of wetlands in the Little River Valley, and education. You’ll often find schools, guided hikes, and even corporate work days part of the activity out at Eagle Marsh.

LRWP cares for four preserves, with three of them being accessible to the public. By far the most popular, is off of Engle Road. Close to city limits, and with several miles of trails, you’ll often see people walking through the serene wetland of Eagle Marsh. It’s also a favorite place for nature photographers to spend hours trying to get perfect pictures of over 250 species of birds.

In 2005, the 833 acres were farmland. “At that time it was flooded corn and soybean fields,” Silva shared. “The farmer had just been flooded year after year and decided it was time to not try to farm this property any longer, so he sold it to us.” LRWP stripped the land of drainage tiles and pumps. They created shallow water ponds using heavy equipment, though the land already flooded often, naturally. Volunteers also removed invasive species, like reed canary grass, stilt grass, and even asian carp. They also planted 50,000 trees.

“It was really the situation of if you build it, they will come,” she told us, referring to the diverse wildlife that call Eagle Marsh home. Similarly, the Arrowhead Marsh & Prairies were also farmland. Now, they are two completely different ecosystems, divided by Aboite Road, for a total of 255 acres. Nearby, is the wooded Buttonbush Bottoms. A small trail off of Amber Road opens up to 25 acres of a ‘habitat corridor’ for birds, frogs and turtles. The fourth remaining property, not yet open to the public, is 53 acres acquired with ACRES Land Trust, near the Historic Forks of the Wabash in Huntington County.

LRWP fulfills its mission with primarily volunteers, operating as a non-profit, and funded by memberships, donations, and grants. “We are lucky that we are the stewards of this property for everyone in this community,” Silva said. “These properties are for everyone, and please come out and enjoy them and support them.”

Though LRWP is limited on how much they can build out trails throughout the marsh, the group recently opened a wheelchair accessible floating trail. To find more information on the LRWP, donate, or visit each preserve, you can find more information here. Stay up to date on upcoming events by following their Facebook page here.

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