Being out in nature rejuvenates the spirit, clears the head and invokes a feeling of wonder. It creates a sense of discovery and adventure as you enter a world far different from the settings of our day-to-day lives.
Fortunately, Northeast Indiana offers many options for those seeking the healing powers of nature. We sit on the northern border of the eastern deciduous forest, which spreads over a vast area including southern Indiana and many eastern states, said Jason Kissel, executive director of locally-based ACRES Land Trust. The northern forest ecosystem creeps down into Steuben County from Michigan, and prairies begin sprouting in the Warsaw area. Add in hills, ravines and the occasional bog, and you have a region with an amazing array of natural diversity.
Nature preserves and city, county and state parks conserve some of the best natural areas for our enjoyment. Most are open dawn to dusk for day users.
Summer hikes on area trails lead you under cool, tree-top canopies, as you hear the soothing sound of water dancing over rocks. Logs and rocks provide prime hiding spots for wildlife, and if you’re lucky you may spot a snapping turtle sunning itself.
Edna W. Spurgeon Woodland Reserve is an ACRES property that features 1.2 miles of somewhat difficult trail through an area of low ridges cut by glaciers and glacial meltwater. Some of the largest beech, sugar maple and tulip trees in Indiana tower over land blanketed with a variety of wildflowers. 9478 N. Road 600W, Ligonier, acreslandtrust.org
Steuben County’s Douglas Woods includes nearly 400 acres of old-growth silver maple, hickory and oak trees, some reaching 100 feet tall. Fish Creek, home to a variety of fish and mussels, meanders through the property. County Road 4A in Steuben County, southeast of Hamilton, nature.org
Kokiwanee Nature Preserve offers 4.6 miles of somewhat difficult trails on its 140 acres. Bluffs overlooking the Salamonie River are home to birds ranging from wood ducks to bald eagles and great blue herons. 5825 E. Wabash County Road 50S near Lagro, acreslandtrust.org.
ADVENTUROUS: Salamonie State Forest offers about 13 miles of trails over up-and-down terrain. Adjacent ACRES Land Trust nature preserves provide an additional seven miles of challenging trails, where you can see wildlife including bald eagles and otters. 5400 Salamonie Forest Road, Lagro, in.gov/dnr/forestry/4814.htm
According to James Holm, community engagement manager with Fort Wayne Trails, cycling on one of the area’s many trails combines enjoyment of nature with a good workout to get your blood pumping.
“It helps my mental health to see other people enjoying themselves in a safe way and with family,” added Megan McClellan, Fort Wayne Trails executive director.
Local trails saw record use in April during the height of the pandemic. Trail counters located along Allen County’s 120 miles of trails registered 87,569 bicyclists, walkers and joggers during April, which was an all-time record, said McClellan.
“We are lucky enough to have the scenic areas to balance out the urban (areas),” said Holm. Holm added that future trail construction will provide even more local benefit, as Fort Wayne’s south side will have enough connected
trail mileage to serve as a full marathon route.
“The Poka-Bache Connector will consist of 81 miles of trails between Pokagon State Park near Angola and Oubache State Park near Bluffton,” said McClellan. “Its eventual completion will draw visitors to this area to ride the trail.”
Passing along a large section of Eagle Marsh, the Towpath Trail follows the former route of the Wabash and Erie Canal, stretching about 5.5 miles from the Lutheran Hospital campus to Rockhill Park. Start your ride at the trailhead off Engle Road, a few blocks east of West Jefferson Boulevard, and keep an eye out for a variety of birds, butterflies and other creatures.
The Rivergreenway trail from downtown Fort Wayne to New Haven follows the Maumee River, passing through woods and bird habitat.
Spanning a wide range of environments, The Pufferbelly Trail winds north 4.6 miles, from Washington center Road to Life Bridge Church on Corbin Road.
ADVENTUROUS: Franke Park’s mountain bike trails offer 10 miles on which to test yourself. The trails, maintained by the Three Rivers Velo Sport group, twist and turn through the hilly, wooded terrain at the back of the park. Difficulty ranges from easy to hard.
For more information and maps of the these bike trails visit fortwayneparks.org
“You can forget your cares, forget your worries when you walk into the woods,”
said Terri Gorney, secretary of the local Stockbridge Audubon Society birding group.
Gorney and fiancé Randy Lehman of Geneva get out frequently to hike and watch for birds.
“I think Terri and I are always excited when we see something rare or new,” said Lehman, retired site manager of the Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva and current president of the Adams County Park Board.
According to Gorney, the variety of ecosystems that converge in Northeast Indiana attract a greater variety of birds than other areas. Oftentimes, people don’t even have to venture farther than their own yards. Both Gorney and Lehman said birding is often best in bad weather, when birds tend to stay sheltered in trees and shrubs.
“Whenever you go, remember to bring binoculars and a bird identification guide,” said Lehman. “Bird watching becomes much more meaningful when you learn about the birds you see and hear.
The Stockbridge Audubon Society offers spring and fall field trips and other birding events. For additional information visit stockbridgeaudubon.org or Stockbridge Audubon Society on Facebook.
Limberlost Swamp Wetland Preserve features 3.6 miles of trails on more than 845 acres, about one mile south of the Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva. Numerous rare bird sightings have occurred at the preserve. On a good day, you might see species without stepping out of your car. Naturalist-guided bird watching outings are available through the site’s Rent-a-Naturalist program. 507 W. Adams County Road 1200S, Geneva, 260.368.7428, limberlost.weebly.com
ADVENTUROUS: The 1/3-mile Three Falls Trail at Salamonie River State Forest, features bird watching while hiking near waterfalls and rock overhangs. 5400 Salamonie Forest Road, Lagro.
Wild Walkers: An adult hiking group formed by Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation, meets twice a month to hike at a northeast Indiana park, wetland or nature preserve. 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month, locations vary. fortwayneparks.org
Trek the Trails: Summer bicycle rides average 8-9 miles, are family-friendly and free to join. Helmets and water bottles recommended. Tuesdays, 6 pm, fwtrails.org
The Allen County Trailblazers program: Complete hikes at 10 local trails (about 1 mile each) between July 1 and December 31, and earn a bronze medallion for your effort. allencountytrailblazers.org
The annual Pufferbelly Run, Walk and Stroll: Sponsored by Fort Wayne Trails, is scheduled for July 18 at 8 am. The event begins at the Parkview YMCA, and includes 5K or 10K routes, and a 1-mile Kids Run. 10001 Dawsons Creek Boulevard, fwtrails.org
Northeast Indiana Water Trails: Check out the virtual version of its annual Three Rivers Federal Credit Union Pedal, Paddle, Play. The event encourages people to explore area land and water trails at their own pace through July 15. neiwatertrails.com