The Limberlost Swamp, parts of which are
now known as the Loblolly Marsh, spanned Jay and Adams Counties,
in east central and northeast Indiana. The Limberlost was once a
very large and dense swampland
of 13,000 acres, with many species
of plants and animals thriving
within. When settlers came to Indiana in the 1800s, they were more
interested in farmland than they were in an overgrown swamp. Over
the next hundred years, the trees and swampland were cleared to
make room for farmland.
Unfortunately for the farmers, the land
would continually try to revert back to its original state as a
years, farmers have had to deal with crops ruined by the amount
of water that soaked their land. Some fields became so damaged that
they could never produce a harvest again. Drainage tiles, which
provided farmers a means of draining water off their cropland into
huge ditches, had been moderately successful in making the land
tillable, but in times of heavy rain the tiles clogged with silt,
the ditches overflowed, and the farmland became flooded as deep
as several feet. Although the water kept coming each year, most
farmers continued to plant their crops with the hope that their
fields might not flood.
field that will eventually be restored wetland
a former dairy farmer and now part of the Department of Natural
Resources, started the restoration process after he re-read the
nature studies of Gene
Stratton-Porter. The famous nature writer and novelist wrote
several books describing how the Limberlost used to be. Brunswick
began to document the flooding of the fields with photographs in
the early 1990s. His work eventually led to the creation of the
restoration project, Limberlost Swamp Remembered, in late 1991.
Ken and a few volunteers began encouraging public involvement to
restore the swamp, starting with the twelve acres of Bird Sanctuary
that was donated to the state in 1947.
By 2002, more than 1,000 acres of farmland
had been acquired for eventual restoration, with Loblolly Marsh
as the biggest success story for the Limberlost. The Loblolly, in
its few short years as a restored marsh, has already attracted many
species of birds, mammals, and insects that once lived in the area,
and latent seeds in the ground from prairie grasses and forbs, and
other native plants, have likewise "awakened." The land
is starting to thrive, but more land must be restored.
When land is bought from farmers to restore,
a few things need to be done before the restoration process begins.
First, the land is classified to determine how to restore it. The
more organic soils are turned into marshy emergent, areas near the
Wabash become flood plains, and the woodland areas are restored
as flatwood wetlands. To restore the Loblolly, forty - fifty feet
of drainage tiles that empty into open ditches were plugged at both
ends with concrete. Normally, the open ditches are filled, but the
channels in the Loblolly are left open because some neighboring
farmland is still being drained. Levees are constructed along the
ditches to support the water collecting behind. If water still manages
to seeps out through the soil, a twelve-inch wide and six-foot deep
trench is dug, then filled with dry clay to create another barrier.
Today, many individuals and organizations
concerned with wetland restoration exist in addition to the Limberlost
Swamp Remembered. Organizations such as the Ropchan Foundation and
Indiana Heritage Trust, as well as many individual donations and
volunteer efforts by a variety of visitors and surrounding community
members, work together to buy non-tillable land from farmers and
restore the territory to wetlands.
Our seminar has contributed to the restoration
process by working on a key 4.37-acre plot (it will be a new entry
point for visitors into the Limberlost) and hundreds of acres surrounding
it. Before we started to work on our plot of land, we made a trip
to Limberlost Cabin to learn more about the Limberlost and the land
we were planning to restore. With the help of Ken Brunswick and
Nancy Carlson, who is a telecommunications
professor at Ball State University and a Gene Stratton-Porter enthusiast,
we were able to grasp how tragic the loss of the Limberlost was
and to her community of Geneva.
With a new understanding of the importance of restoration, we made
plans to return to Geneva and get our hands dirty.
for rainy restoration work
We gained firsthand experience in restoration
work on two separate occasions. (See photos.)
The first time we went, the weather was completely against us. One
team of students braved heavy rainfall to survey the 4.37 acres
with professional surveying equipment. Calculations of the correct
elevations and distances would allow Ken and others to create a
map of the acreage and plan for its future use as a visitor entryway.
Two other teams of students located and marked drainage tiles on
the surrounding 200+ acres. Unfortunately, the tiles were not easy
to find in the deep drainage ditches, which were overgrown with
tall grasses. After a couple hours, however, the teams were able
to find, mark, and photograph the tiles for federal surveyors.
On our second trip, we had much nicer
working conditions. Our job on this occasion was to plant native
trees and prairie plants. More than 60 New England asters, compass
plants, and other prairie plants went into the ground on our 4.37
acres, along with a dozen white and burr oaks. Nearby, in order
to create a corridor that will shelter animals passing between two
wooded areas, we planted more than eighty red oak saplings. To end
our day, we went to another part of the Limberlost and harvested
prairie grass seeds—switchgrass and Indian grass—which
would then be planted in different parts of the Limberlost the following
Our time at the Limberlost was a memorable
and rewarding experience. We were able to help restore land and
learn more about the environment around us. Restoring the Limberlost
Swamp is a worthy cause. With time, care, and a few willing volunteers,
part of the Limberlost may one day reflect its original grandeur.
To learn more about restoring the Limberlost, or how you can help
with the restoration process, please contact the Limberlost
Swamp Remembered or the Limberlost
State Historic Site. On our site, visit the environmental
issues and special projects sections
for more information.