Friday, June 06, 2008

A Field Trip to Turkey Run State Park in Indiana

A Field Trip to Turkey Run State Park in Indiana

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When chaperones are needed for field trips to natural areas, my children’s teachers know they can count on me. I’m motivated to help out, of course. But really, most days there is nothing I would rather be doing than walking in the woods, and being out with enthusiastic young people makes the experience all that much more enjoyable.

So last week I went along with my daughter and her classmates at Campus Middle School for Girls on a trip to Turkey Run State Park in west-central Indiana.

One of the foremost attractions at Turkey Run is Sugar Creek, and when our path approached it the students made a bee line for the water’s edge. On the day we were there the stream was low and crystal clear, perfect for investigating a gravel bar and the nearby shallows. We found rocks with a variety of plant fossils in them, as well as mussel shells, and even one live mussel. To their credit, when someone caught a toad the girls jostled with each other for a chance to hold it rather than shrieking or running away.

Turkey Run is distinguished from other natural areas in the region by its deep, sandstone canyons, which were carved by torrents of meltwater from retreating glaciers during the last ice-age. As you wind your way along a small stream there with rock walls towering above you it can be difficult to believe you’re still in the Midwest. 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.

Some of the trails at Turkey Run include ladders and 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 Turkey Run have never been 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.

The emerald ash borer, a recent arrival to the North America from Asia, has the potential to wipe out ash trees here altogether. At state parks in Indiana and throughout the Midwest, natural resource managers are doing everything they can to persuade people not to transport firewood from one place to another, since that is how the emerald ash borer spreads fastest.

But wait. This is a story about a field trip to Turkey Run State Park, not a lecture on invasive species. By the time our group made it back to the picnic area for lunch, the students were happy just to enjoy some time on the lawn.

Meanwhile the teachers and other parents who had come along were interested to see the red-headed woodpeckers that were feeding nearby. I think. Or maybe they were just too tired to get away from the dad who had brought his binoculars.