Fort Wayne – A pair of bald eagles has landed in the right place.
Stretching across 705 acres, Eagle Marsh is the largest nature preserve in Allen County and one of the largest restored wetlands in Indiana. It also includes prairies, sedge meadows, 30 acres of woods and eight miles of trails.
The eagles, spotted regularly since November, are among 173 avian species that expert birders have seen in the marsh in the past several years. There also are plenty of leopard frogs, bitterns and sparrows, and a few coyotes.
They're just some of the creatures that might make a fleeting appearance during the "Walk for the Wetlands" on Saturday.
This fundraiser celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Little River Wetlands Project, a local land trust that was founded in 1990 and acquired the marsh property in 2005.
There is a 2K and 5K walk; both are non-competitive. Walkers can start anytime between 9 and 11 a.m.
"We want it to be a nature experience, not a sprint," board member Judy Nelson says.
Naturalists will be stationed along the way to answer questions and point out interesting sights, such as various native plants, bluebird boxes and a tree gnawed by beavers.
Walkers are bound to make other discoveries in the marsh.
"It's different every week," says board member Sam Schwartz, a retired microbiologist who lives nearby and visits regularly.
As the seasons change, migratory birds come and go, flowers bud and bloom and tadpoles grow into frogs. Of course, there are mosquitoes and other insects, too, but for the most part, they're well managed by resident predators, such as dragonflies and bats, he says.
Visitors also have seen groups of great egrets – between eight and 20 at a time – as well as great blue herons, Henslow's sparrows, bobolinks, sedge wrens, deer, turtles, salamanders, snakes and muskrats.
But there are some unwelcome visitors, too, in the form of invasive species, which are particularly aggressive in the first five years after a restoration, Nelson says. Purple loosestrife, Japanese honeysuckle and garlic mustard, among others, can choke out native plants and repel birds and insects.
"You lose pollinators, birds and butterflies" when invasive species take over, Schwartz says.
Removing these plants, and maintaining the trails and signage, costs the non-profit organization about $50,000 a year.
Some of the work is done by a crew of more than 100 volunteers.
Eagle Marsh, part of an area that was drained to create farmland in the 1800s, is adjacent to Fox Island County Park. Its initial restoration – which included digging some shallow areas deeper; seeding native rushes, grasses, wildflowers; and planting around 45,000 trees and shrubs – was finished in 2009.
Little River Wetlands Project protects more than 1,100 acres in the Little River valley between Fort Wayne and Huntington, including Arrowhead Marsh and Arrowhead Prairie near Aboite.