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Duff Lake Partnership Dedication Sign in front of the restoration site. Photo by Scott Fetters/USFWS.

Duff Lake Partnership Dedication Sign in front of the restoration site. Photo by Scott Fetters/USFWS.

Duff Lake Fen restoration project opens public access in Indiana

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program assists voluntary landowners to transform unused and degraded property into desirable habitat that provides food, shelter and water for wildlife. These restored areas are often designed to provide a place for outdoor recreation activities. In 2015, the program and LaGrange County Parks and Recreation Department got their boots on the ground to start the Duff Lake Fen Restoration Project in northeast Indiana.

The Duff Lake Fen site was used for cattle grazing by previous landowners. As time lapsed, the landowners saw a decline in cattle grazing and the property become available for purchase. LaGrange County Parks and Recreation saw this as an opportunity to acquire acreage adjacent to their existing Pine Knob County Park. The goal was to provide the community with public land for additional hiking, sightseeing, bird watching and outdoor education opportunities. Though, LaGrange County Parks and Recreation knew what the community wanted, they needed technical and financial assistance to complete the project.

“When LaGrange County called to inform us they were acquiring the Duff Lake Fen property, we were eager to collaborate and provide assistance, because the site is located in our Glacial Wetlands and Grasslands Priority Focus Area,” said Scott Fetters, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program Biologist. “By assisting LaGrange Parks Department in creating a high quality outdoor area, we are restoring a historic grassland and wetland site that provides wildlife much needed resources.”

When collaboration first started on the restoration project, a visit to the property revealed the potential to restore 76 acres of fen wetland and 28 acres of oak savanna. These habitat types are essential for migratory birds and federally threatened Eastern massasauga rattlesnake. An assessment indicated invasive species removal and restoring wetland hydrology as the main restoration goals. For Fetters and LaGrange County Parks and Recreation Department, the first step was to remove the invading phragmites, purple loosestrife and reed canary grass. These invasive species outcompete desirable native wetland species and degrade wetland habitat. Coincidentally, because the site was previously grazed by cattle, the invasive species didn’t fully establish, and the native upland and wetland seed bank was still intact waiting for the opportunity to grow. The second goal was to restore the wetland hydrology that had been removed via over 14,000 lineal feet of agricultural ditches that were installed to make the area suitable for agricultural production.

A month after filling the ditches, the groundwater table started to rise and the site started to change into a desirable wildlife habitat. After 2 years of invasive species removal efforts, Duff Lake Fen’s native plant species have flourished and established themselves once again. With the completion of this park, LaGrange County is able to provide a quality natural area for the public to access for outdoor recreation and improved habitat for mallards, blue-winged teal, American woodcock, sandhill cranes, sedge wrens and marsh wrens.

“Restoration sites like these are great! Seeing people and wildlife utilizing this area demonstrates the need for habitat restoration projects”, said Fetters. “This project has been extremely valuable for the public and for the federally threatened Eastern massasauga rattlesnake which has been found twice on site.”

Our Partners for Fish and WIldlife Program has worked with LaGrange County Parks and Recreation Department for over 20 years and we have built a trusting relationship by working on projects beneficial to the public and wildlife. We look forward to future projects that will provide valuable habitat for wildlife and opens access to public lands.

By Scott Fetters
Indiana Private Lands Office

 

Last updated: June 8, 2020