Eagles to get company by marsh

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Staff members see the edge of Eagle Marsh at Little River Wetlands Project’s new office at 5000 Smith Road in southwest Fort Wayne. Making the move effective Aug. 3 are (from left): Freya Bernston, volunteer program manager; Kristen Peck, communications and major events coordinator; Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs; Amy Silva, executive director; Dana Claussen, wetlands education coordinator; and (not shown) Cassandra Ferris, administrative support specialist.

The office of the Little River Wetlands Project has outgrown its Engle Road digs and is moving to an expanded space off Smith Road, according to Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs. “We’re more than doubling our current space,” she said.

The old location is surrounded by the trees overlooking Eagle Marsh. The new location offers a closer look at the eagles and wetlands for which the enterprise is named.

Founded in 1990, the Little River Wetlands Project is a nonprofit land trust devoted to rehabilitating and conserving wetlands in the watershed of the Little River, a headwaters tributary of the Wabash River. LRWP protects almost 1,200 acres, in Eagle Marsh, Arrowhead Marsh and Arrowhead Prairie.

Asked if the Engle Road office had begun to get a little cramped, Yankowiak responded, “That’s saying it politely.”

“We have effectively grown out of our office,” she said. “And we continue to grow.”

The new office will have a large conference room equipped with projector, projection screen and TV monitor, she said.

There will also be a secondary meeting room, Yankowiak said, and an enlarged working space for volunteers.

“Our volunteers have been working in an office [space] that is maybe 10’ x 10’. We have volunteers that come in weekly. Their space is expanding fourfold. They’re going to be so excited,” she said.

The office will closed July 24 to accommodate the move and will reopen Aug. 3, Yankowiak said.

The Little River Wetlands Project is growing in other ways, she said.

It has added new employees and a new position to address fresh challenges.

Kristen Peck has come aboard as communications and major events coordinator, Yankowiak said.

“This is the first time we’ve had anyone handling our communications,” she said. “We have had lots of volunteers handling that activity. But it became too big for volunteers.”

Peck previously worked in communications for IPFW and for Mystic Brush, a face-painting company, Yankowiak said.

The Little River Wetlands Project has also engaged the services of a new wetlands education coordinator, she said.

Dana Claussen, a recent University of Saint Francis graduate who served a wetlands internship in the office, has been promoted to the full-time position.

Freya Bernston is the Project’s new volunteer program manager, Yankowiak said.

She is an Indiana Master Naturalist, she said, who has special dragonfly expertise.

“I am so excited,” Yankowiak said. “We were just talking about this dragonfly program we’re going to do and she was like, ‘Oh, I used to catch them and tag them.’”

Maintenance and upkeep on the federally funded berm project that was completed a year ago continues, she said.

The $3.5 million Eagle Marsh berm is 10 feet tall and 2 miles long and is designed to prevent Asian carp, an invasive species, from reaching the Great Lakes.

“Every month we walk down the berm and make sure there are no holes through it, even though I am sure our volunteers and hikers and runners would tell us,” Yankowiak said. “And we also do it after every rain — make sure there are no erosion issues.”

The Little River Wetlands Project has been charged with establishing native plants on the sides of the berm and along all the surfaces that were disturbed during the construction.

“That’s the hardest part,” she said. “The hardest, most intensive part of habitat restoration especially with wetlands is the first few years…”

What makes this endeavor especially difficult, Yankowiak said, is the goal of curtailing undesirable vegetation while trying to help desirable native plant life to thrive.

Visit lrwp.org for a summary of the group’s mission and a list of upcoming activities.