Monday, December 29, 2014

Youth Education Day at Limberlost Nature Preserve

          By: Jennifer Thum (ISDA) and Bettie Jacobs (Jay Co. SWCD)

For the past ten years, Jay County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) along with ecologists, historical storytellers, NRCS and the IDNR, have organized and hosted a wetland educational field day at the Limberlost Preserve located in Jay County.  The event is for ALL Jay County 5th grade students.  There are seven elementary schools, and to be exact, that is 256 kids in all.  The field day provides a unique opportunity for state biologists and enforcement officers, ecologists, scientists, and conservationists to come together and share their passion for nature with students who might otherwise not learn about wildlife in their own backyard.    This was my first year as a District Support Specialist for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and I was able to volunteer at this event; I am so glad that I did.  During the event, I wandered to each of the nine learning stations and saw firsthand the excitement on the kids’ faces as they were having fun and learning about animal pelts, beaver dams, the insects that call the wetland home, and my favorite station, the history of Limberlost as told by Betty Drinkut.  As a parent, I think it’s wonderful that the school district and the local conservation district organize an event that allows the children to step outside the classroom and experience nature through educational presentations, demonstrations, and hands-on activities that teach them about the environment, wildlife, and wetlands.   

When the students arrive, they are accompanied by their teachers and chaperones through a rotation of nine learning stations.  The learning stations are all based upon “Wetland Education”.  The stations are 20 minutes in length and are “manned” by staff of DNR, NRCS, and Friends of the Limberlost volunteers.  Topics that are covered are:
Why Wetlands? – Explains to the students the benefits of a wetland.  This learning station is manned by Al Schott, DNR;
What’s Slithering? – Shares with the students some of the “cold-blooded” residents of the wetlands including “preserved” species and a live snake.  Manned by Curt Burnedette, the Educator at the Limberlost Nature Preserve;
Birds of the Wetlands – How the wetlands benefit our feathered friends.  Manned by Connie Ronald, member/volunteer of the Friends of the Limberlost;
Woodland Hike – Students hike through a section of woods while trees are identified.  Manned by two DNR staff members, Fred Affolder & Lorraine Shier;
Insect Dig – Living larvae and water dwellers are dug up from the wetlands.  Students are then allowed the opportunity to “sift” through harvested wetland bottom and discover/identify life!  Manned by DNR;
Wetland Wildlife – DNR Conservation Officers handle this station.  They bring animal pelts for the students to handle/identify and a Beaver Mount is made available as well.  This past October we were really fortunate to have a large, active beaver dam at this learning station site!  
What do you see? – NRCS Jayson Mas handles this station.  The Jay SWCD obtained local grant funding and 30 pair of binoculars were purchased, allowing each student the opportunity to “search” the wetland area with “eyes”!  For many students, this is the 1st time they’ve ever used binoculars!
Native Plants – Consists of a short hike while native grasses and plants are identified.  We are fortunate to have Ben Hess, the Regional Ecologist of the DNR Division of Nature Preserves, sharing his knowledge with the students at this learning station.
History of the Limberlost – Students learn how this area all came about, how it was originally a wetland, and how several years attempts were made to drain and farm, unsuccessfully…. and how Gene Stratton Porter was involved!  Ken Brunswick, retired DNR, generally handles this learning station and even has an amusing, but true, story of how Limberlost got its name!

Curt Burnedette – Limberlost Nature Center, Educator.  “History of the Wetlands”

“What Do You See?”

“Wetland Wildlife”

“Why Wetlands?”  - Demonstrating Bottom Soil Remover

“Insect Dig”


Active Beaver Dam – on site!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Local Leadership

By Geneva Tyler
District Support Specialist, Indiana State Department of Agriculture 

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”  These words are credited to Roy E. Disney, nephew of the great Walt Disney, and while I may assume he uttered these words with the Magic Kingdom in mind, this statement continues to carry much truth.  I would also perhaps flip Mr. Disney’s statement around and say that our decisions also reflect our values, whether those decisions pertain to what we have for lunch, what we choose to do in our free time, what line of work we choose or how we care for our environment. 

Whether the only soil you claim is contained in a potted tomato plant on an apartment balcony or you have been blessed with thousands of acres to care for, how we value our natural resources becomes apparent in the decisions we make.  Our land and water are incredible assets here in the Midwest and our local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) provide great opportunities to have a voice in your community, make decisions regarding the natural resource concerns in your county, and influence decision makers, peers, and even the next generation.  Being led by 5 members of your community, the SWCD board members’ decisions reflect the values of the District and the continued mission that was handed them in  1937 by the State of Indiana.  While science and economics continue to influence farming practices and environmental stewardship, the desire to conserve soil, improve water quality and leave the general landscape healthier than when we came into it continue to be key values to Soil and Water Conservation Districts. 

 An empty lot has been transformed into a raised vegetable garden, Marion County.

 With the assistance of the SWCD, raingardens have been installed in many urban areas.

 Lamprey barrier on Trail Creek, LaPorte County. 

 A Benton County corn field after a rain shower.

Photo taken at Tipton County Fairgrounds at a Soil Health Workshop, one of many that are routinely offered around the state. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Improving Our Watershed in Jefferson County, One Place At A Time

Submitted by: Mike Johnson, ISDA Resource Specialist Team Leader, Laura Fribley, ISDA District Support Specialist Team Leader, and Kayla Hubbard, Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) District Coordinator.  

Mike works from the Clark County office and services several Southeastern counties.  Mike has been with the Division of Soil Conservation for nearly 25 years.  He raises grain, hay and beef cattle on 350 acres in Clark County.  Laura’s based out of Floyd County and works with 16 counties in southern Indiana.  She has worked with the Division since 2006. Kayla works out of the Jefferson County office near the Fairgrounds and is a resident of the county.  She graduated from St. Andrews Presbyterian College and has worked for the SWCD since 2011. These three work together on Clean Water Indiana (CWI) grants, and other initiatives throughout the year.

Each year, county SWCDs have the option of applying for competitive CWI grants.  The CWI fund is administered by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture under the direction of the State Soil Conservation Board.  Jefferson County SWCD, located in southern Indiana along the Ohio River, actively participates in the grant program. 
“CWI grants have really made an impact for Jefferson County producers, because it gives them more incentive to put conservation practices on the ground. Without the grants our district would not have the funds to give the amount of incentive dollars to the nearly as many producers as we have in the last couple of years.” – Steve Riley, Jefferson Co SWCD Supervisor

Photo: Wheat field following no-till soybeans. The producers participating in the grant are required to no-till their row crops, have a soil test and apply a cover crop. Photo by Kayla.

How does this typically work locally?  First, the SWCD and other local conservation agencies determine what natural resource issues need to be addressed.  Then, the SWCD applies for a grant outlining their local needs and ways to address them.  Jefferson Co SWCD and surrounding counties have written great proposals over the years and have secured multiple grants.  Once they get the grant, the SWCD accepts cost-share applications from landowners and awards the funds based on a variety of criteria.  The projects undergo a “quality control” process too, meaning that it’s verified each project is qualified, meets established specs, and is completed.  Mike assists the SWCD a lot in this stage.
With these conservation grants, the SWCD has provided CWI cost share to landowners who implement a variety of soil saving practices including cover crops, forage and biomass planting, and residue and tillage management.  It’s a win-win for each, both from an economic and water quality standpoint. 

Photo: this picture shows a cover crop seeded after soybeans on highly erodible ground in Jefferson County.  The main component is crimson clover.  The producer no-tilled into it in the spring.  Photo by Mike.

From spring 2013 to summer 2014, 28 practices were implemented.  This affects approximately 900 acres.  Load reductions estimate these practices have saved 3,736 tons of sediment from entering local water bodies.  For another perspective, that’s about the same as filling:
  • 10,645 bath tubs
  • 85 Olympic size swimming pools, or
  • 141 backyard 15’ diameter swimming pools 

Wow! That’s amazing. Each of these individual practices really makes a difference and improves the local watershed, one place at a time.

Photo: this is a hay field that was in row crops two years prior.  To receive cost share, producers were required to convert row crops to forage or pasture.  Photo by Kayla.

For more information on CWI grants in your region of the state, visit:
For more information on the Jefferson County SWCD, visit their website or FaceBook page:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Posey County and Vanderburgh County SWCD’s Use a Clean Water Indiana Grant to Build a Two-Stage Ditch

By Carrie Parmenter
District Technician, Posey County Soil and Water Conservation District

The SWCD’s are working in conjunction with the Posey County Drainage Board, Posey County Surveyor, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resource Conservation Service to install a ½ mile long two-stage ditch on Metz Lateral which is a tributary to Big Creek.  After months of canvassing the two counties for possible sites, this site was chosen because of the severity of erosion, easy access from a county road, suitable dimensions, and willing landowners.  

Metz Lateral where the two-stage ditch will be constructed.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with a two-stage ditch, it is designed to have two levels.  The lower level is called the bench and it is about two feet above the normal water level.  These benches are grassed and act like little floodplains.  The side slopes are then taper back and also grassed.  The gentle slope and grass help stabilize the banks and provide additional area for flood waters during the spring.   The grass helps remove sediment and nutrients which creates much cleaner water.  

Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy 

There have been several two-stage ditches built in northeast Indiana, but this is a new conservation practice for southwestern Indiana.   The SWCD’s are planning to have events for the public to come and see the two-stage ditch being built and we will showcase the finished ditch.  It’s our hope that this practice will become much more common.   So watch the Posey County Soil & Water Facebook page for future activities during and after construction!   If you’d like to contact the Posey County SWCD you can find us at  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Meet Them Where They Are

By Courtney Hall
Spencer County Soil and Water Conservation District, Program Administrator

This year was the final year for the 2012 Clean Water Indiana Grant for Spencer County, a joint watershed-based project between Dubois, Crawford, Gibson, Orange, Pike, and Spencer Counties.  Spencer County consisted of roughly 9% of the watershed.

In 2013, due to a wet fall, few cover crops were sewn in time to be funded by the grant in the Hunley Creek Watershed, a small watershed which drains north into the Patoka River through Dubois County from Spencer County.   Early in 2014, we sent out notices to the producers of Hunley Creek Watershed.  We had no response.   We sent out another notice to the producers with applications attached.  We had one response.  We published notices in the paper, Facebook and our website.  The Spencer County SWCD had a slight problem: How to “spend” the last of our money for the grant when no one seemed to be interested. It looked like we may have to give back the unused portion of the money and risk not having cover crops cost-shared in this final year of the grant.  Our Supervisors began speaking to every producer they knew in the watershed, which really helped, but we were still falling short.  We still were facing a dilemma until an idea struck the staff of the SWCD and Nick Held, our Purdue Extension representative.  Meet them where they are!

We scheduled a Cover Crop Seminar at 7 AM in the only town in the watershed which had a meeting place! After sending a personal invitation and calling every phone number for the producer we could find, we had several producers show for the event.  We had Paul Giles, Associate Supervisor and veteran cover crop producer address the crowd about what his operation has found with many years of trial and error.   Nearly every producer who came was interested in applying for the cost-share program.  We had a total of 10 applications consisting of more than 450 acres of cover crops.  We were able to fund cost-share assistance on more than 300 acres jointly with SWCD and the CWI funds.  Jamen Frederick, Resource Specialist with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture assisted Amy Sims, Spencer County District Technician, to spot-check that the cover was germinating.  Bringing conservation funds into our county, helping educate our citizens and helping make our county a better place to live, is part of our mission!  To keep up with our county, “find us” on Facebook or visit our website:


Paul Giles discusses Cover Crops with the Hunley Creek producers at our Cover Crop Seminar

Arial application of cover crops over a corn field

              ISDA Resource Specialist Jamen Frederick with a tillage radish.

Amy Sims, District Technician, holding tillage radish.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Front Row Seat to Agricultural Production in Indiana

By Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson, Resource Specialist Team Leader, works from the Clark County office and services several Southeastern counties.  Mike has been with the Division of Soil Conservation for nearly 24 years.  He raises grain, hay and beef cattle on 350 acres in Clark county.

 As we are in the middle of high school, college and professional basketball; NFL playoff games; and later on this summer the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400, everyone hopes to get the best seat possible and maybe even FRONT ROW SEATS.  I have a front row seat to some pretty amazing events myself through Indiana agricultural production.

Windrow to Bale

Watching this little guy grow from birth to yearling


Watching this frost bitten seedling mature to 200 bushel corn


Getting Conservation Closer to Ground Level

Despite some doubting minds (mine included) spring has finally sprung and that means more to some of us than just the blooming flowers, singing birds, sunshine and blue skies.  To the educators of our area it means the school kids are finally able to venture out of the classroom on some much anticipated field trips.  Pulaski County Soil and Water Conservation District was lucky enough to be invited to design multiple education programs throughout the year.  But nothing beats being able to expose young hearts and minds to the wonder of our surrounding natural resources.  This spring allowed us to participate in 3 major outdoor learning programs. 

The first was a 4th grade field trip to the Tippecanoe River State Park.  A quick survey revealed only about 15% of the 125 children had ever visited this gem of a park a mere 5 miles from their school.  Even on a less than spring like day (40 degrees was our high with a constant drizzle) the kids’ enthusiasm and excitement at being in a new and interesting place was infectious. 

Each class visited 6 stations consisting of Forestry taught by District Forester James Pothoff; Erosion and Bank Stabilization taught by Purdue Extension’s Natalie Daily and Chad Rushing; Park History taught by Pulaski County SWCD’s Barb Rausch and yours truly; Mussels, Macros and Otters with Pulaski County SWCD Educator Kathy Wyatt; and finally, the overwhelming favorite of all the students, Community Service led by ISDA’s Julie Morris and Deb Jimison.    The kids even participated in a word scramble over their lunch break to solve the clue “Preserve. Guard. Protect.”.  After finding all 12 letters hidden around the park students successfully spelled “Conservation”! 

Barb Rausch retells the Potawatomie Tribes story of why the Tippecanoe River is so curvy.  (The fur hat on her head is for more than just effect, it was cold!!) 

Kathy Wyatt braved the rain to show the kids how important otters, macros and mussels are to indicating the health of local waterways.
Deb Jimison and Julie Morris were so proud of the hard work done by little hands.  Each 4th grade class learned how to identify and remove invasive species from the park.  The brush pile pictured is one of many containing autumn olive, garlic mustard and bush honeysuckle. The kids had to be practically dragged away from their workstations to move on to other sessions!  But what 9 year old doesn’t love going to work with hand saws and giant pruners? 

A few days later, and thankfully about 30 degrees warmer, found us at the Rausch Family’s National Wetland with 120 2nd graders. The almost 40 acres of wetland and forest provided the perfect outdoor experience for these young minds to learn about animal tracking, furs, birds, forestry, macros, and measurements.  Each class brought with them a large water filled jar that had been the home of the class tadpoles for a few weeks.  The tadpoles were released into the wetlands and were cheered on by the young stewards as they ventured into their new homes.

Taking Measurements with Mrs. Wyatt and 
Ms. Jimison

Animal Tracks & Scat with Mr. Rausch, Forestry with James and Birds of the Wetlands with Julie Morris

And, of course, what would a field trip be without a fun lunchtime game of “Turtle, Turtle, Otter”?  For those who don’t know, that is the twist us SWCD folks put on the traditional “Duck, Duck, Goose”. I mean, who doesn’t love saying, “Turtle, turtle, turtle, turtle, turtle, OTTER!”?  (Although, for some reason, I can never get anyone in the office to chase me; no matter how many times I tap the top of their head and say “You’re the otter!!” They really aren’t amused when I run around and try to sit in their seat, especially since they typically never got up to chase me.)

Thankfully the beautiful weather held out for yet another field day, this one organized by Jasper County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Jody Wilson and located on the beautiful grounds of the Kankakee Marsh County Park in Lake County.  Jody teamed up with Rensselaer Schools 8th graders, bringing them out to learn about this long gone marsh from visiting speakers Rose Morgan (Newton County SWCD), James Pothoff (DNR), Sarah Wolf (ISDA), and myself! Jody was even able to recruit Jeff Manes and Jim Sweeney local history experts, as well as, writer and contributor to the documentary “Everglades of the North”. 

I was given the opportunity to teach these young adults about animals both currently living in and extinct from the grand marsh.  Many had never even seen some of the animals we had pelts for.  The students even played along (with minimal groaning and eye rolling) in a game to exemplify the importance of using our natural resources wisely. 

None of the students believed beaver pelts were used as currency for early settlers.
Buying groceries with beaver pelts? Crazy!

Every day we come in to the office with a mission, get conservation on the ground.  So we focus on our agricultural producers, promoting cover crops, advising on responsible irrigation, encouraging conservation program sign up, water testing, and the list goes on.  We can’t forget an important part of that mission is our young people.  They may not currently be active stewards of the land but if we are lucky more than a few of the 400+ students we exposed to the beauty and value of our natural resources this past week will grow up to care as much for this land as we do.  And even at their young age they can pass on our message to friends and family.  After all, it is much easier to get conservation on the ground while you are still as close to ground level as these small folks are.

Written By: Ashley Brucker, Pulaski County Soil and Water Conservation District