On the Trail: Learn about eco-research at St. Pat's

Author: Joseph Dits, South Bend Tribune

A sign

A sign along Laurel Road at St. Patrick¿s County Park points out the work that is ongoing to create the University of Notre Dame¿s LEEF project, or Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility. (February 3, 2013)

You may have seen the digging in an open field at St. Patrick's County Park, within eyesight of the 9/11 memorial and east of Laurel Road, where the University of Notre Dame is installing a research project of the ecosystem.

Still puzzled by what it will be and what it will do?

The South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society will bring in two key people to explain and answer questions at the club's meeting at 2 p.m. next Sunday, Feb. 10, at Rum Village Nature Center, 2626 S. Gertrude St., South Bend. The public is invited.

The speakers will be St. Joseph County Parks Director Evie Kirkwood and Brett Peters, assistant director of the Notre Dame project, called LEEF, or Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility.

The project will allow university researchers, students and community members to track the interrelationship between land, water and wetland as they change -- and to use cutting-edge sensors to see the changes in real time on the Internet. It will help to simulate what future environmental changes might look like, too. The project is using 28 acres of park land at St. Pat's.

But, while you're at Rum Village for the talk, don't pass up the chance to rediscover the hilly hiking trails in the mature woods of this city park, with trees more than a century old and lots of woodpeckers.

The Audubon Society isn't including a hike with its program. I'm just saying that, with just a few steps on the trails, you won't see the neighborhoods anymore. A layer of snow and shafts of sunlight add to the mystique. Relatively new trail signs keep you from getting lost.

The birdfeeders at the nature center always fill up. I was there with a group recently when two big birds -- either wild turkeys or turkey vultures -- waddled by the feeders. I'd never seen that in my many visits.

Dunes camping fees

The National Park Service wants to increase camping fees so that it can cover the cost of adding municipal water to the Dunewood Campground in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Fees for that campground would rise by $3 for a cost of $18 per night. That's still cheaper than the range of $19 to $29.50 at comparable campgrounds in Indiana, Michigan and Illinois, according to a news release from the park service.

Also, the park service wants to charge a new fee of $10 for its annual Century of Progress Historic Homes tour and for other historic homes tours that may be offered. Fees have been collected for shuttle services, but they don't cover all of the other costs.

What do you think? These are proposals for now. Comments can be e-mailed to or mailed to Superintendent, 1100 North Mineral Springs Road, Porter, IN 46304.

Or come to an open house to offer your input in person from 6 to 8 p.m. CST Feb. 11 at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, 1215 N. Indiana 49, Porter.

Parks could grow

Three parks and preserves in northern Indiana recently won a shot of money to help them grow, thanks to Indiana's Bicentennial Nature Trust, which uses state and private funding to expand trails, wetlands and recreation sites.

  • The Shirley Heinze Land Trust will get $240,000 to help with the total cost of $480,000 to purchase 64 acres in Porter County that used to be Camp Meadowbrook. It has a variety of habitats on what's known as the "north slope of the Valparaiso Moraine," according to a news release from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
  • Lake County Parks will receive $16,250 to help with $42,500 needed to buy five acres and add it to a 728-acre park in Lake County. It would enhance connections to the Oak Savannah Trail corridor north of the park and protect rare plants.
  • Blue Heron Ministries will get $150,000 to help with the $300,000 cost of buying 122 acres around Big Center Lake on the west edge of Angola, Ind. The site would become a nature preserve with room for hiking, bird watching, fishing, canoeing and kayaking.

    The state seeks more donations of private land and money and input about projects. Applications are at

Reach Joseph Dits at 574-235-6158 or Look for more outdoors events -- and list your events -- at