In northeast Indiana, some of the most striking examples of natural beauty and ecological function reside in an area known locally as Lakes Country. Characterized by an abundance of lakes, rivers, and wetlands, this water-wonderland is home to a vast array of plants, animals, and communities. However, like many areas, a looming threat casts its shadow over the land and water that are vital to these communities.
Many of us know the threat that invasive species pose to our local communities, economies, and natural areas. It is a threat that requires us to come together, be together, and work together. This is part of the reason we started the Garlic Mustard Challenge. The Garlic Mustard Challenge is an annual event, where we encourage folks across the Great Lakes, New England, and beyond to protect their local, native ecosystems by pulling this invasive plant and reporting it. It is one way we can show our collective impact across the landscape. Garlic mustard is, unfortunately, only one invasive plant out of hundreds that impact natural communities. In Lakes Country, organizations and individuals are strategically working together to leverage their collective impact across the landscape by addressing emerging invasive species.
In 2014, under the guidance of The Stewardship Network (TSN), a non-profit organization that connects equips and mobilizes people and organizations to care for lands and waters in their communities, twelve governmental agencies and non-profit organizations in LaGrange and Steuben Counties came together to set collaborative goals and work together to achieve these goals. One of the goals of the group is to function as a cooperative weed management area (CWMA) and to improve invasive species education and control. The group adopted the name “Lakes Country Cluster” as a representation of the geographical, natural and cultural significance of the numerous natural lakes within the focus area. The Cluster’s focus area is generally LaGrange and Steuben Counties of northeast Indiana and is gaining momentum working together.
The Lakes Country Cluster is pleased to announce that it has received funding from the LaGrange County REMC – EnviroWatts Grant Program to work together to begin to address three local high-priority invasive species, Phragmites (Giant Reed), Glossy Buckthorn, and Japanese Knotweed. All three plants are wetland species and form large, expanding, single species stands that can take over and dominate an area. Similar to the negative impacts of garlic mustard, this results in the degradation of habitat for both human and wildlife usage. Degradation takes the form of crowding out native plants and animals; reducing available habitat and food for wildlife; blocking views; reducing access for swimming, fishing, hunting, and other recreational uses; reducing property value; and negatively altering a natural area’s water resources. This strategic project will begin the on-the-ground process of controlling the impacts of invasive species and slowing their spread across Lakes Country.
And yet, the successful award of this grant project is rooted in the people that came together – and continue to come together – to work collaboratively to address a complex issue impacting local communities and landscapes. We all have our role to play, yet it is up to each of us to engage. Our annual Garlic Mustard Challenge is an easy and fun way to get outside and engage with the land community around us and be a part of a widespread collective effort to care for land and water. So, the next time you’re in northeast Indiana, take a moment and be glad that folks here are collaborating, adapting, and functioning together. Take a moment to enjoy the beauty and wonder of Lakes Country. And, if you’re in the area this spring, lend a helping hand and pull some garlic mustard!
Our deep appreciation goes out to the partners of the Lakes Country Cluster and the leadership of this collaborative group: Blue Heron Ministries, The Nature Conservancy, LaGrange and Steuben County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Division of Nature Preserves, IDNR Division of Fish and Wildlife, IDNR Division of Parks and Reservoirs, LaGrange County Parks and Recreation, LaGrange and Steuben County Surveyors Offices, Steuben County Lakes Council, ACRES Land Trust, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A special thank you to Beth Williams, who leads the Lakes Country Cluster. More about Beth…
Join the Lakes Country Cluster mailing list!
All my best,