Monroe Lake: A Hike through Stillwater Marsh
Stillwater Marsh is one of the special features that attract visitors to Monroe Lake. The marsh is unique, because it is managed and altered throughout the year to ensure a variety of wildlife habitats as well as recreational opportunities. This management provides optimum habitat for migratory waterfowl as well as other species.
We began our hike at the North Fork Check Station. Here we learned that the area is considered a ‘wetland complex,’ with its seasonal and year round wetlands. The wetland area is closed to the public between October 1stand April 15th. During part of this time the area is used for regulated half-day hunts. The hunters are put into a drawing for the opportunity to hunt on the area and make use of the 22 different duck blinds throughout the marsh.
As you walk through the marsh, you will see stands of crops. These crops are planted in order to provide food for the wildlife as well as shelter. The stands of crops that have been flooded, provide terrific shelter for waterfowl. Different crops are planted such as corn, wheat, millet, buckwheat, sunflower, sorghum, and turnips.
During our hike we passed Salt Creek and learned that the water that is used to flood the marshes is actually drawn from that creek. This process is completed using a variety of pumps. According to Interpretive Naturalist, Jill Vance, a single 12 inch pump can pump 4,000 gallons per minute from the creek into the marshes. The picture below is the site where the water is drawn from Salt Creek.
Also while hiking along the area, you will see earthen mounds located throughout the water. These are man-made mounds that provide nesting areas for land nesters. These are ideal locations for raising young due to the protection provided by the surrounding water.
We also learned about the drain for the marshes. The drain allows for slow release of the water in the marshes by removing logs one at a time. After draining the marshes, the freshly exposed shoreline provides great feeding grounds for shorebirds.
Toward the end of our hike, we learned that Monroe Lake is famous for its role in the reintroduction of bald eagles. They built a hacking tower in the North Fork Marsh area and obtained eaglets from Alaska. Hacking is the process of introducing juvenile eagles into the wild. Once the eaglets were placed in the hacking tower, they were cared for by the wildlife biologist. I was shocked to learn that 73 eagles took their first flight at Monroe’s hacking tower. In 1989 the property discovered the first nest and two years later the first eaglets survived. As of 2010 there were 97 successful nests in Indiana and 20 of those nests are located at Monroe Lake. These numbers sure make it exciting to be a Hoosier.
Stillwater Marsh is a very beautiful area, and it is easy to see why it is such a draw for both visitors and wildlife alike. Below is a photo of our hike leaders, Interpretive Naturalist Jill Vance and her intern Wendy.
I didn’t get the chance to see an eagle that day, but I was able to see a Pileated Woodpecker while driving through the park. Overall it was a really great visit, and I hope to return to Monroe Lake and participate in another fun program.