A Natural Park
NOPE, you won’t find slides and swings at the Children of Indiana Nature Park (Park), but you WILL find trees, insects, signs of critters, and life around every corner. This land was deeded to all of the children in Indiana because we think YOU ARE IMPORTANT and because PROTECTING NATURE MATTERS! As you explore the land, you will learn about ways we are changing the property to make your land as healthy as possible!
My Spot Now
Depending where your deed is located, your spot may be in a hay pasture or your spot may be in a wooded area. The Park is mostly flat with a ravine running north-south through the center of the Park. The eastern part of the Park is largely an old white pine plantation where the trees were harvested for building materials. The western part of the Park is a hay pasture that is bordered on the east by hardwood forest that generally follows the ravine. There are mowed trails throughout the property for people to walk. In time, this area will be restored to its natural state as it was before the hay pastures and the pine plantation.
Making the Park Healthier
In the future, the Children of Indiana Nature Park will look more like it should with native plants and animals, thanks to the great care that many children gave to the land, and all deeds to the Park will be located in hardwood forest habitat. The Park will be a native hardwood forest with a diverse understory of native plants, and will reflect the natural features of the Central Tillplain region. The Park will look as settlers may have found the land in the area in the mid 1800's. A new trail system will also allow easy access throughout the Park.
Caring for My Land
What people do on the land affects the plants and animals that live there - sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good. People who care for the land and the creatures that live on the land are called conservationists. At the Children of Indiana Nature Park, we are planning conservation activities that will maximize the number of native plants and animals that call the Park “home.”
So many amazing animals!
Many different mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects call the Children of Indiana Nature Park home. Let’s explore what can be found in the area and what makes these critters unique. We’ll periodically rotate this list so there will always be someone new to learn about!
Known also as “woodchucks,” groundhogs are common to the Midwest. Weighing in between 7 and 14 pounds they are about 25 inches long with brown or black fur, short legs, and a bushy tail. They have strong limbs and powerful claws for digging.
They live in many habitats including prairies, woodlands, and farm fields. Groundhogs are able to easily adapt to human-altered environments and can be seen in neighborhoods, parks, and along roadsides. As long there are safe places to burrow it can be a home for these creatures. These burrows are used for dwellings and protection from predators. If they need to, groundhogs can climb trees to escape predators. They are not fast runners so a safe hiding place is a must.
Groundhogs hibernate through winter in their burrows beginning in October or November and then will emerge in mid to late-February. They have special “rooms” in their burrows in which to defecate.
This lizard is one of the most common in the eastern United States. The five-lined skink is also called the blue-tailed skink or the redheaded skink. Adults grow between five and nine inches in length. When the skinks are young the five cream-colored lines are distinct, as they get older these stripes may disappear on males. In fact, older skinks are usually brown all over their bodies.
These ground-dwelling animals prefer semi-wooded, moist habitats that allow for coverage as well as places they can bask in the sun. During mating time, females will lay between 15 to 18 eggs in a well-protected area such as a hollow log or abandoned rodent burrow.
Five-lined skinks prefer to live in areas that are moist and wooded or partially wooded. As long as there are places for them to take cover and places to bask in the sun, the skinks are happy. The home ranges of skinks vary depending on the habitat type and how much area is good for them. The size of their home range also is determined by their sex and age.
Common yellowthroats are small songbirds and are one of the most common warblers. They have rounded heads and medium-length tails that are somewhat rounded. Adult male common yellowthroats are bright yellow and have a black face mask similar to a raccoon’s. The females do not have the black mask and are a less vibrant color of greenish brown.
Much of this bird’s time is spent low to the ground searching for food in dense thickets and fields. They are looking for small insects and spiders to eat. During times of migration, they are extremely common to see in fields. Sometimes, yellowthroats will join other warbler flocks and they all forage for food together.
Males are territorial and fight intensively to protect their space. They wait for the females to show up to the breeding grounds and once they have selected a mate, the males follow the females until she is ready to mate. The female signals this by flashing her wings. However, this also attracts other male yellowthroats and the female will sometimes mate with others behind her first mate’s back.
Karner Blue Butterfly
The famous novelist, Vladimir Nabokov, “discovered” and named the Karner blue butterfly. These butterflies prefer to live in areas of pine barrens and in Black Oak savannas. They are more likely to be seen in northwest Indiana with populations found near dunes and swales near the lakeshore. It is vital their habitats have wild lupine growing in the area.
Karner blues feed on the nectar of many different flowers as adults, but as caterpillars they feed exclusively on wild lupine leaves. Like all butterflies, Karner blue butterflies are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. When resting, they close their wings as a way to protect against predators.
Karner blue butterflies are considered an endangered species at both the state and federal level due to dramatic declines in its population numbers. The decline is caused by loss of habitat. They have declined by 99% over the past 100 years. Ninety percent of their loss has occurred in the past 15 years.
Let’s talk about plants!
The park is home to a variety of plants. Some belong here (they’re called native plants) and some do not belong here (they're called invasive plants). We’ll explore both native and common invasive plants here, sharing a little about each one to help you learn about what grows on your land. We will periodically update this list, so be sure to come back so you can become a native plant expert!
Native: Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Virginia Creeper is a climbing vine native to eastern and central North America. Part of the grape family, this flowering plant produces tiny yellow-green flowers in summer which turn to dark purple berries in the fall. These berries are food for birds during the winter, though they are poisonous if consumed by humans. Many caterpillars eat Virginia Creeper leaves for food. Often confused with poison ivy, Virginia Creeper has five leaves instead of three as poison ivy does. Each leaf is comprised of five leaflets joined at the center on the leafstalk. The leaves range in size from one inch to eight inches, and are “toothed” or serrated on the edges. The vine can grow on trees or the sides of structures as well as along the ground. Virginia Creeper will grow anywhere from forests to fields and gardens, or along stream and river banks. It also provides cover for small animals and is a good native plant for gardens.
Native: White Oak (Quercus alba)
White oaks are an important hardwood tree to eastern and central North America. Bark color of the white oak is usually light gray and the tree grows tall and broad-topped with large branches. White oaks are able to live 200-300 years if given the chance and do not produce large amounts of acorns until they are around 50 years old. White oak leaves have seven to nine rounded lobes and can be as long as nine inches. Many acorn eating animals prefer the white oak’s fruits to those of other oak trees because they are less bitter. White oak leaves are also the only known food plant of certain moths.
Invasive: Autumn Olive (Eleagnus umbellata)
Indigenous to eastern Asia, autumn olive was introduced to the United States to provide food for wildlife. However, it quickly became invasive throughout the eastern U.S. as birds spread its fruits. It grows as a shrub or small tree about 15 feet tall, with thorns and leaves that grow alternately on the stem. The underside of the leaves is covered in small silvery scales, and the pale yellow-white flowers bloom in clusters during the month of April. The fruit is silvery and yellow in color until it ripens and turns red. Autumn olive crowds out our native plants, so when considering plants for your garden, avoid autumn olive and choose a native shrub instead.
Invasive: Winter Creeper (Euonymus fortunei)
Winter creeper is an invasive climbing woody vine that stays green all year and forms very dense ground cover. It is also known as climbing euonymus and is native to China. Introduced to the U.S. for use in landscaping, it quickly became a threat to our natural areas. Like most invasives, it can grow quickly and it is able to grow well in shade. The thick ground cover it forms displaces native species. It spreads from vine growth as well as birds spreading its seeds. For landscapes and gardens, it is important to choose native plants.
Stewards of the Land
On this page we feature stories about how people work to keep native habitats healthy and wild, by caring for our lands and waters. Below is a story about how one group cares for a very special animal that lives on our land.
Turtle examination kit at the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab.
The Gateway Animal - Eastern Box Turtle
We all love turtles and the eastern box turtle is protected in Indiana. Let's learn more about what one scientist is doing to help them.
Click here to read the rest of the story!