John Brooks could tell decades worth of stories about observing nature in northeast Indiana.
Instead, he prefers to continue the project he and his wife, Carol, began years before her death in 2017. Now that LC Nature Park is operating, the Brooks family has secured a way to simply narrate the stories that nature tells in its own way.
The “LC” stands for “Loving Carol” — “a woman with a lovely and engaging spirit who enriched the lives of all who knew her ...” The park spans 200 acres of woods and restored tallgrass prairie in far southwest Allen County. Nineteen bison and 16 elk roam, feed and rest much as they might have done 200 years ago. They will have some company. The park officially opened May 1, and now schoolchildren and other groups are invited to sign up for tours and nature lessons.
A golf cart ride through the woods beyond the lake reminds Brooks of how he enjoyed nature while growing up in Fort Wayne. In those years he had access to Foster Park and nearby wooded areas, and was aware of the creatures who made their homes in those trees. Now he wants future generation to see the birds and other animals that he has always appreciated. He wants children to observe the massive and magnificent species that vanished from the Little River Valley generations before Brooks first roamed Foster Park. He wants to take a moment to appreciate and point out the three-petal, white trillium that flow up the hillside.
That machinery for that extended education is in place. Naturalist George Manning joined LC Nature Park as director about two years ago. Brooks yielded the spotlight April 29 as Manning outlined the LC Nature Park history and mission for the media.
“This historically was a farm,” Manning said. “The barn that we converted into our education center was an over 112-year-old bank barn, so this was a functioning farm for the better part of 75 or 80 years,” he said. “When we came on board we though this was a great addition for the 200-acre park that’s behind us, a great overview of this end of the park where we can see the animals and see some of the restorations that we’ve been doing and get a good idea of what Indiana looked like 200 years ago.
“We want everybody to come and have a great time and learn what Indiana was all about pre-contact time, what native flora and fauna were here.”
He said that “bank barn” — a barn cut into a hillside — is now the Mills Education Center. “Our primary mission is to get school-age kids out here, whether it’s with their schools or with their families or the scouting groups that they’re in. Hopefully they have a good time and they learn something about nature and they take that appreciation of nature with them as they make their way through the rest of their lives.”
The bison and elk have demonstrated a commitment to expanding their numbers each spring. The bison roam more freely and are easier to see, but Manning said the trail system ensures that the elk are never hidden too deep in the woods.
“We have hawks and woodpeckers and every once in a while we get the bald eagle flying down the river,” Manning said. “We have raccoons, opossums. We have foxes, digging dens and having kits.”
Manning said the park has been establishing ties with educators for about two years. Contacts with schools took a hit last year due to COVID. “We have a good relationship with the home school groups,” he said. “We’ve been working with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We’ve had some very positive reactions from those groups.”
LC Nature Park is at 9744 Aboite Road, south of U.S. 24. Tours and visits are by appointment. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 260-999-3153.
Sessions for Camp Trillium for ages 4-12 begin June 7. Registration has begun.
Volunteer camp counselors ages 13-17 need one day of training before taking on those duties. Apply by May 15.