Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs for the Little River Wetlands Project, stepped inside the newly minted Founders Circle at Arrowhead Marsh off Aboite Road.
She described how the little fledgling bur oak tree that stood in the middle of the circle wont grow as tall as other oaks in area, but when it takes root in the soft, moist soil, its branches will stretch out far and wide – a symbolic dedication to the founders and their effect on Fort Waynes wetlands and wildlife in the Little River Valley for the past 23 years.
When we think about how far weve come and how hard these gentlemen worked to get the project started, the thought is that this is just a special way to continue honoring them, Yankowiak said.
Four of the Little River Wetlands Project founders – Dick Poor, Ron Zartman, Paul McAfee and Sam Schwartz – attended the small ceremony Saturday to honor all 12 of the founders before hiking through one of the trails at Arrowhead Marsh with family and friends.
Honestly I never thought myself as a founder, Zartman said. But its nice to think of yourself that way, and its nice to be recognized that way.
In response to Indiana along with the Midwest losing 85 percent of its wetlands, the Little River Wetlands Project was founded in 1990 as a nonprofit land trust. Its mission is to restore and preserve 25,000 acres of wetlands in Allen and Huntington counties in the area of the Little River, a tributary that flows into the Wabash River.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, wetlands have the ability to feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters and remove pollution. They also increase wildlife such as birds within the area.
They started with a vision to primarily educate people about the importance of wetlands and wetland preservation, said Amy Silva, executive director of the Little River Wetlands Project. They worked and worked with the community, lots of public-speaking engagements, and through all of that hard work, they actually had the ability in 2005 to buy land, and put those things they worked so hard educating people on into place.
Because of the support of members and volunteers, the Little River Wetlands Project protects 1,100 acres in the Little River Valley area, which includes Eagle Marsh, Arrowhead Marsh and Arrowhead Prairie preserves. Yankowiak said the organization wanted to place the Founders Circle at Arrowhead Marsh because it was the organizations first preserve.
It all started right here, she said. It took a lot of effort to get this point.
Maryann James, who attended the event in honor of her late husband, founder Ron James, said that he would have been impressed to see the progress made.
Its just phenomenal. So many people committed their time, she said. Somehow they were able to get lots of people involved with it, which is why its so big at such a young age.
Poor, who was the presiding president during the acquisition of Eagle Marsh, the largest nature preserve in Allen County, said it didnt occur to him that area would become a publicity draw for the project.
I think theyve done real well. But I want to keep them thinking of the rest that needs to be restored, he said. Its a big project, and theres a lot more to do.