Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Ceremony Saturday to mark opening of water trail along Little Calumet East Branch

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A ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the re-opening of the water trail along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7.

Save the Dunes, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, the National Park Service, Student Conservation Association, and the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association have been working to restore habitat and improve access along the river corridor, whose water trail extends from North Calumet Road in Chesterton to Howe Road at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

While canoe/kayak launch hardscapes will not be installed until the end of 2017, the partners are hosting the event as part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s Outdoor Adventure Festival. For information and to register, visit the Festival’s Eventbrite page at http://bit.ly/2xM3FJV

The East Branch of the Little Calumet River runs from Red Mill County Park in LaPorte to Portage, where it flows into Lake Michigan through Burns Waterway. This more than 20-mile stretch of river runs through such Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore sites as the Heron Rookery and the Bailly Homestead as well as a number of municipal and county parks and Shirley Heinze Land Trust nature preserves.

Paddlers, anglers, and other recreational enthusiasts have long-awaited improved access to the East Branch of the Little Calumet River. However, before many stretches of the river could be opened for recreational use, the National Park Service needed to conduct an Environmental Assessment to ensure that increased recreational use of the river would not threaten the health of the river or surrounding natural resources. Completed in July, the Environmental Assessment found that increased passive recreational use of the East Branch of the Little Calumet River would cause no significant impact to the river.

“The opening of the East Branch of the Little Calumet River is the culmination of decades of vision, now reality,” National Lakeshore Superintendent Paul Labovitz said. “Partners made the impossible happen. This new public recreation resource will change how our neighbors and visitors look at our National Park.”

Through funding from the Chi Cal Rivers Fund, Save the Dunes, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, the National Park Service, the Student Conservation Association, and the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association are working to restore habitat and improve access along the river corridor from Shirley Heinze Land Trust’s Dale B. Engquist Nature Preserve located in Pine Township adjacent to the Heron Rookery, westward to Lake Michigan. Through this project, the river has been opened from Brummitt Road in Westchester Township to Mnoke Prairie in the National Lakeshore, with plans to continue river opening activities in 2018 to Ind. 149.

“While the river can be enjoyed from a few hiking trails, awareness of and access to those trails is limited and the river has been inaccessible for other forms of recreation such as paddling and angling for years,” Save the Dunes Executive Director Natalie Johnson said. “We want to give residents and visitors of Northwest Indiana an opportunity to experience and appreciate the river and inspire them to be stewards of it.”

As the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association noted, “Significant logjams had developed throughout the river since last maintenance operations had ceased nearly 30 years ago, compounded by a 2009 tornado event, making it nearly impossible to navigate by canoe or kayak. The collaborative project has so far opened eight previously inaccessible miles of the river for paddling using the Palmiter Method of modifying woody debris obstructions, which causes fewer disturbances to aquatic ecosystems and leaves portions of logjams intact for habitat.”

In addition to reducing logjams in the river, the partners also want to increase access into the river. At this time, there is not a single formally developed canoe/kayak launch along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River. Shirley Heinze Land Trust, however, plans to install two canoe/kayak launches on its sites along the river: the Keith Richard Walner Nature Preserve in Porter, and the Wykes-Plampin Nature Preserve in Westchester Township. Hiking trails, interpretive signage, and small parking areas will also be installed at these sites to allow for more recreational use and appreciation of the river. Shirley Heinze Land Trust has protected approximately 400 acres along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River corridor.

“Unprecedented progress has been made when it comes to providing public access as well as habitat restoration and land preservation along the river corridor,” Shirley Heinze Executive Director Kristopher Krouse said. “This is a direct result of what happens when partners come together to collectively achieve a visionary and ambitious goal.”

Recreational enhancements are not the only goal of this project. Save the Dunes, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, and the National Park Service are removing invasive species, felling dead standing ash trees lost to emerald ash borer, and restoring riparian habitat along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River through this project to support the ecological health of the river corridor.

Save the Dunes, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, National Park Service, and Northwest Indiana Paddling Association extended their gratitude to the Chi Cal Rivers Fund partners, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Donnelley Foundation, and ArcelorMittal for funding this exciting work.

 

 

Posted 10/5/2017

 
 
 
 

 

 

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