Area's natural wonders celebrated
on Earth Day
By Sue Lowe
South Bend Tribune
Mike Latus stood on the Lake Michigan shoreline and talked
"This whole lakeshore is basically the result of glaciers,"
said Latus, who will run the Outdoor Explorer Program at
Warren Dunes State Park this summer,
Back some 12,000 years or more, the park near Sawyer and
the rest of the area were covered by glaciers thousands
of feet thick.
In this part of the world, areas that haven't been rearranged
and changed by man generally bear some imprint of the glaciers.
They created the Great Lakes, giving us the beautiful shorelines
that attract both local residents and tourists.
They are part of what we celebrate on Earth Day on Thursday.
The masses of ice also formed smaller natural features.
Evelyn "Evie" Kirkwood, director of St. Joseph
County Parks, stood in the basin that contains Spicer and
Lancaster lakes in northwest St. Joseph County and began
an explanation that also went back to the glaciers.
"This whole basin was filled with a chunk of ice that
was left," she said. "The glaciers retreated,
and it (the ice) melted. Spicer Lake and Lancaster lake
are glacial lakes, kettle hole lakes."
On the Lake Michigan shoreline, the glaciers brought a mix
of boulders, cobbles, sand and clay from Canada, and left
it behind to form the sand dunes along the Lake Michigan
The glacial "drift," as the debris is called,
was broken up by the waves and wind to form sand.
Latus said other sand came down the rivers and into the
And because the prevailing winds come from the west, the
sand piled up on the shoreline.
And made sand dunes.
Left bare of vegetation, the dunes move constantly with
But grasses begin to grow, sinking their roots down and
holding the sand in one place.
Latus said the grasses then decay and begin to catch and
hold soil with more nutrients, which slowly allow bushes
and then trees to grow.
And their long roots stabilize the dunes.
Away from the beaches that turn into a sea of humanity in
the summer are areas that look very different.
Latus stood on a spine of land with 20- to 30-foot drops
on each side and gestured toward the trees and bushes on
"These are stabilized dunes," he said. "They've
been like this for hundreds, maybe thousands of years."
Then, he led the way around another bend, and a slope of
raw sand ran down to meet the wooded stabilized dune.
The difference was dramatic.
The raw sand is a "blowout," an area where "something
wrecks the forest," Latus said.
He said a strong wind or a fire cause natural blowouts.
Man sometimes damages the dunes and causes the blowouts.
The wind pushes the sand back in a parabola, which is kind
of like the back side of a saddle you would use to ride
There is no vegetation in a blowout, except the skeletons
of trees that grew a long time ago and had been gradually
covered by the dune.
Back in the northwest corner of St. Joseph County, there
are no wind or waves, and it's quieter down in the basin
of Spicer Lake County Park.
One hears birds and the scratching of bare tree branches
rubbing against each other.
Most of the park is wetlands surrounding the two lakes.
A boardwalk leads over the swamp to Spicer Lake. It's a
swamp because it has trees and bushes.
A marsh is the home of grasses and sedges.
Because it has no inlet or outlet, Spicer Lake has little
oxygen. So no fish live there except a mud minnow.
The water in it is ground water that has seeped out of the
Lancaster Lake does have an inlet and outlet, and supports
But you can't get to what is perhaps the most interesting
part of the Spicer Lake Nature Preserve.
"There's a floating swamp forest you have to wade to
get to," Kirkwood said. "You can stand on the
mat of the forest and bounce and feel it move."
Trees don't get too big out there. After awhile, they just
fall over because the ground is too soft to hold them.
Both the shores of Lake Michigan and the smaller Spicer
and Lancaster lakes are good places to visit in the spring
That's when you can add migrating birds to your bird lists.
information is posted for nonprofit educational
purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter
1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.