Bring on the Rain!

Written by: Carolyn Boyd

A week of new and exciting experiences and skills learned, under cover of lightning…this is one way to describe this past week in the Indiana Dunes.

As we began the week on Monday bright and early in the field, it was shaping up to be a fairly regular work day. The Teams split into an herbicide team and a planting team and the guys trained Emi how to properly mix and use herbicide in the wetlands, while Kristina and I planted with Adam in the unit. We arrived early into the field and with some of the heat abated this week and temperatures only reaching into the low 90s it was a welcome relief and we had a fairly productive day planting a mixture of species in unit 23.

Tuesday started fairly cool but turned much hotter as noon approached, and the teams finished herbiciding and planting. We spent the remainder of the day catching up with the updates for our final project we are to create. Related to the hot weather as of late, we’ve all been extremely depressed about the sad state of affairs many of the plants are facing. With the recent drought in what should be the rainy season, the continued absence of rain clouds is never far from thought, or our rose-bud-thorn meeting at the end of the day to discuss our good and bad experiences. From our tour of the JFNEW facility we learned that because of the drought, many of the plants have already produced seed and the number and quality of the seed is greatly reduced, and even if the rain does arrive, many cannot play “catch-up” to make up the deficits.

Some of these concerns we alleviated with the high possibly of rain the next two days. On Wednesday we went into the field with our bucketed plants and tools under the overcast sky, but as soon as we unloaded our plants we saw flashes and heard the first resounding rolls of thunder. So back to the safety of the truck to wait out the storms. Sadly after more than an hour the thunder still echoed and we joined team 2 at the Beverly Shores train station to wait some more. It rained for a while, but not really enough to make a difference. By 9:30am the storm had not passed so both teams loaded up and we adjourned to the NPS office to learn some greenhouse skills.

Our NPS contact Dan Mason came out to the greenhouse and taught us how to prepare the soil and properly transplant the young seedlings into the trays to mature. This day we mixed the teams up, and this was our first opportunity to work with members of the other team. Emi and I worked in the older greenhouse, and Kristina in the newer one (which would later prove to be a better choice with its improved ventilation system and air flow than the older building) while Patrick and Jason worked on reinforcing wooden pallets with the folks of the NPS for a board walk into Cowles Bog. After lunch we finished up our tasks, and with the skies clear and the sun shinning we returned to the field to plant at least a portion of our buckets.

Over Wednesday night and into the morning of Thursday though, our wish for rain was met, and not counting the power outage and ice run before work, we were extremely thankful for the 3-4 inches of rain that fell. At least practically replenishing the wetland water levels, nothing makes you happier than hearing that tell tale squishy noise a trowel makes in properly saturated soils. But early that morning, we still had to work in the greenhouse for a portion because of the lightning, but the routine was broken again when we assisted the NPS crews installing the pallet walkway, using the fire line technique to move the 249 wooden pallets farther into the bog to connect with the Walker trail. Mission accomplished and some a little sore and bruised with the awkward work of pallet moving, we returned to the field and continued planting in unit 23 and we are now 2/3 of the way completed with this unit.

Aside from planting the many species of flora today we also experienced quite the range of fauna today. We started with a praying mantis in the greenhouse, a Black and Yellow Garden Spider sighting by Jason, so wiggling mayfly larva by Emi, a leopard frog by Patrick, and the highlight of our day, the snapping turtle at lunch. This turtle was hanging out in the shade of our water cooler, and after kindly sticking around for our photo shoot, retreated to the newly refilled standing water the side of the spillway were we prep our plants and tools in the field. And all of this aside from our normal sand hill crane and heron sightings. Too bad the camera is not always turned on and at the ready to catch the true breadth of animals we experience everyday, especially after the rain we animals started to return to the wet areas.

Another work related activity we did was participate in the NPS Volunteer Appreciation Picnic on Saturday at the Bailey Homestead, and aside from delicious food and games of bingo and water balloon tossing, we got to meet the other volunteers for the park and hear about the other numerous activities going on in the park. After the picnic we rounded of the beautiful day with a dual team hike down the Cowles Bog trail to Lake Michigan so a nice quiet afternoon on the beach. So while this was a wild week of switching jobs and feeling like we were on a wildlife safari, and dodging lightning storms, we learned some new skills, finely received some rain we’ve been hoping for, and met some very nice volunteers from the park, and got some great shots of the interesting work we do every day. All and all a pretty good week.