While some of her students went to the beach for spring break, an Indianapolis teacher decided to stay within the state’s boundaries.
On Saturday, Kathleen Yeadon made the hourlong trip south to Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge for its annual Wetland Day event.
Yeadon had the opportunity to hear chorus frogs, see a once-endangered trumpeter swan and check out a few turtles during a Wetland Walk.
Yeadon said she has read a lot about nature and wildlife, but nothing compares to seeing it in person.
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“Listening and finally hearing frogs was so cool. And I had never seen the trumpeter swan before. Watching that get up off the ground, you’re like, ‘What did that take to get up in the air?’” she said.
“Those would be the two things I loved because it was two things I hadn’t ever seen, but I had heard about,” she said. “I just think it’s cool that it’s an hour away from your house. I’m in the middle of spring break where everybody goes hundreds of miles to the beach, and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t even want to leave Indiana because there are so many cool things.’”
Saturday was Yeadon’s third trip to Muscatatuck. In February, she came to see sandhill cranes for the first time.
“I got to see them, and it was such a moment,” she said. “When you see stuff you hear about and all of a sudden it’s real, it takes your breath away. When you live in Indianapolis or when you just didn’t grow up in a family that was interested in all the nature … you just don’t know that this much happens in Indiana. I think it’s super cool.”
Wetland Day started with a guided bird walk early in the morning. Volunteer educators also were stationed on the Chestnut Ridge Trail, and there were activities for kids.
Donna Stanley, park ranger at Muscatatuck, began the Wetland Walk in the afternoon by giving a brief history of the nearly 8,000-acre refuge in Jackson and Jennings counties. It is one of three in the state, is the oldest and has wetlands consisting of wet, mucky soil and sand glaciers.
In the 1950s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wanted a national wildlife refuge in Indiana, Stanley said. An area was spotted near Linton, but the landowner at the time didn’t want to sell the land, which the Department of Natural Resources also wanted.
Federal and state officials were at a restaurant at U.S. 31 and U.S. 50 in Seymour when a woman told them about her brother duck hunting at nearby Moss Lake. That swampy area became Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.
“They decided that would be a good spot for a waterfowl area,” Stanley said. “Moss Lake … it’s not a lake at all. It’s kind of a wet swamp, and there’s a lot of springs. That’s where the creeks run together. It’s just a really natural wetland, but it’s always been a sanctuary for waterfowl, and that’s why Muscatatuck is here.”
On the first part of the Wetland Walk were the north and south sections of the Endicott Marsh, named after Seymour businessman Jim Endicott, who was involved in the establishment of the refuge.
The trumpeter swan was seen on the north section of the marsh. Stanley said those birds are no longer endangered since conservation agencies reintroduced programs to eliminate hunting seasons on them.
Stanley said that type of swan, which is the heaviest living bird native to North America, occasionally has been spotted at the refuge, so seeing one Saturday was a treat.
“They just recently have come back, and they are now passing through this area again,” she said. “He’s on his way north for the spring. He’s probably going to Wisconsin, Minnesota or southern Canada and just stopped in to take a lunch break or maybe a day’s rest.”
Stanley also pointed out various types of trees and plants on the walking trail, along with remnants of concrete slabs of farms that used to be on the property before it became a refuge and trees took over the land.
Part of the trail in the forest area has a concrete road since it often floods.
“There’s a lot of low woods on the refuge, and the natural cycle was three or four times a year, the creeks flood, they flow into the river, the river floods, it backs up into wet woods and all of this wonderful floodwater sinks into the soil,” Stanley said. “The soil soaks up the floodwater. The real value of wetlands is a place like Muscatatuck — very flood-prone, but wonderful for wildlife.”
The woods is a great place to see woodpeckers and other cavity-nesting birds, along with reptiles, amphibians, turkey, deer and other animals, Stanley said.
Beyond the woods are Mutton and Storm creeks, which at one point flow together and come out of the Moss Lake area.
“The creeks used to meander and wind around just like a winding river,” Stanley said. “But then about 1900, the people who lived here got tired of the flooding, so they thought, ‘We’ll straighten them out, and we’ll see if that helps.’”
That didn’t prevent flooding, and that area still is under water after a big rain.
“But that’s very normal, and it’s really good for the wildlife here,” Stanley said. “This is a wonderful area to see birds back here. It’s actually one of the best birding areas in the Midwest the second week of May.”
Just beyond the creek is Mini Marsh, a popular nesting area for Canada geese. Stanley said a lot of those birds nest on the refuge this time of year and into the summertime.
“The kind we have here in the summertime are the giant Canada geese,” she said. “There’s about 11 different sizes of Canada geese.”
The walk ended at a pond where turtles, frogs, river otters and geese often are spotted. The ground on one side of the pond is sand, and the other side is wet and mucky.
Yeadon said she was glad she chose to go on the Wetland Walk. She wouldn’t have wanted to spend her spring break anywhere else.
“To realize there is all this biodiversity in Indiana and to learn about wetlands and to learn about how many incredible things are here, I want to give up my Colorado trip because I’m supposed to go hike there this summer, and I want to just go hang out in the wetlands,” she said, smiling. “There’s a lot of wetlands in Indiana. That’s what I’m finding out. … There are so many cool things to see that you don’t know exist.”
For information about Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, visit fws.gov/refuge/muscatatuck.