Saturday, June 10, 2006

Appreciation for Indiana’s Shades and Turkey Run State Parks

Listen to the commentary
Real Audio : MP3 download

My family and I took advantage of the perfect weather last weekend to get out for an overnight camping trip at Shades State Park in western Indiana. We were attracted to Shades because it resembles nearby Turkey Run State Park in its natural features, but gets a bit less traffic. If you’ve never been to Shades or Turkey Run, this is a great time of year to visit there.

Like Turkey Run, Shades is situated on Sugar Creek, which is actually more of a mid-sized river, and an attraction in its own right. Our getaway didn’t include a float trip, but many other people were on the river last weekend. There are a number of outfitters that run canoe and kayak trips on Sugar Creek, so you don’t have to haul your own boat to enjoy it. The river is quite clean and sports a healthy population of smallmouth bass.

Both Shades and Turkey Run parks feature deep, sandstone canyons that were carved by torrents of meltwater from retreating glaciers. As you wind your way along a small stream at the bottom of a shady canyon there, it’s easy to forget that you haven’t really left the flatlands. Lush ferns dot the canyon floor, and carpets of moss cling to the damp cliff surfaces. Even as summer begins to heat up, cool breezes slip down the canyon walls to make hiking more comfortable.

The trails at Shades include wooden staircases for getting down to the canyon floor and back up. As you climb, it’s easy to appreciate the immensity of the trees surrounding you. Some parts of the forest at Shades and Turkey Run were never logged, and others haven’t been disturbed for a century or more. Many of the giants there--tulip trees, American beeches, and various oaks--reach heights of more than a hundred feet.

You’d like to think a forest that has survived the past two hundred years in the Midwest has outlived the greatest threats it will ever face. But that’s not necessarily so.

At state parks in Indiana and throughout the Midwest, natural resource managers are doing everything they can to persuade campers not to transport firewood from one locale to another. Their goal is to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer, a beetle from Asia that arrived in Michigan by way of shipping crates in 2002. This insect is an extremely serious pest, with the potential to wipe out America’s ash trees altogether. The leading cause of emerald ash borer expansion is the movement of infested firewood. You can do your part to stop the spread of emerald ash borer and other forest pests by not bringing firewood from home when you camp, but buying it when you reach your destination.

But wait. This is supposed to be a commentary on the attractions of Indiana’s Shades and Turkey Run State Parks, not a lecture on invasive species. And I haven’t even begun to mention the wildlife my family saw there last weekend.

Maybe that’s something you’ll just have to check out for yourself.