All right. Well, I wanted to briefly explain dune succession. It's something we talk about in the dunes, especially with a lot of the school children and such. Basically what it is, is how dunes, the environment changes over time and, really, that's with soil. So you'll have in the beginning just a bare sandy soil, let's say. And then through time you'll get some pioneer plants that start to grow in there they don't need a lot of nutrients and a lot of soil moisture, but they grow. They're very hardy plants. Like a pioneer plant would be, like, a marram grass or a cottonwood tree. Okay, very hardy, resilient plants.
What happens is they grow for a while , and then in this really, really just sandy soil , their leaves and leaf litter and debris, and such eventually turns into a little richer soil. It has the capability of holding the moisture a little more, and it has more nutrients in it. So, what happens is then more plants can grow. And it's just that simple: with more plants then you get a richer soil, and you eventually get a more diverse habitat with many or many more plants that can grow in it. And then with that you get more and more animals as well. So, that's kind of dune succession in a nutshell.
Here's a really neat pioneer plant, wormwood, right here, and it's the second year here with the seeds. So, the first year kind of looks like this, really soft, and the second year you have the seed head there. I also wanted to remind everyone just about the phenomenal birding in the region here. We're on a major migratory flyway, and for instance, probably real soon this week I'm probably gonna come out here and sit in the parking lot and just look right here on this little dune, this dune area. They'll probably be some woodcocks out here doing their incredible little flying mating thing right here. It's really something to see. So the woodcocks, look that up. It's something interesting.
So many wonderful things going on in this park all around us. All right. Basically what we've just done: we come off of the parking lotand we've gone through that little foredune area that I stopped at and talked about dune succession a little bit. You'll come over this dune ridge and then all at once you're in a nice little oak forest here. And you'll see this, we put this in here years ago for doing environmental education programs, but, golly, I've seen groups out here. I've seen church groups out here, youth groups out here, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts. I mean, hey, have a picnic out here, come on out, and have some fun.
We have a lot of old home sites before this park was established. A lot of the land had already been purchased and there were homes, and a lot of those homes have been taken down. So, you'll even see that some plants that maybe shouldn't be here, like some yucca here and such, but we do home site restorations and things like that too. That's a whole 'nother ballgame, but we're gonna basically just continue on our walk right here.
Just so that you can keep your bearings. Just off of where that little amphitheater area was there was an old road here. I was saying, used to be roads here and homes, but here's an old road coming off of Kemil. But you'll see the DR for Dune Ridge, so we just kind of follow it right up towards that dune ridge. A couple things you may notice along the trail are some trees that kind of are, just almost, like snaky. Call 'em snaky sassafras is what I call them with the kids. It's a sassafras tree. They're very fragrant, yeah, you scrape 'em off a little bit, then you can smell this. Smell really, really citrusy, almost, to me, and it's a neat tree. And when they-- when they leaf out, they'll actually have three different shaped leaves: one that's kind of just one lobe, like a football, and one kind of like a mitten, and one kind of has three lobes, put two holes in it, looks like a ghost.
But you also see trees that look as though they've been burned and they have been. We do have management prescribed burns here too to work with this area and keep it the way we like it. And with the different oaks in here, and then you have the understory like the sassafras as well. Neat story about that, we had a group here a couple summers back and there's a lot of wildlife here too. And one of the people said, "Hey look Ranger there's a, there's a rabbit right there," and it was right here. And I looked over and I go, "I'll be darned," and here comes this big Eastern Box Turtle. Was kind of just walking towards us I kind of got a kick out of that. That was fun, but just to tell you what kind of different animals are out here. Box turtle would be quite a treat. We just passed some folks, and they said there was a bald eagle down here on a tree towards the marsh area, so I'm gonna, hopefully we'll get a look at it.
I mentioned the management prescribed burns, and here's a good example of a burn. You'll see a lot of the burned trees around the area, but you also see an open area here too. Why we do that is for many, many years, traditionally there were fires that came through naturally and then people just put fires out. That's what people do.
Well, it wasn't, it wasn't the natural process, so we're kind of getting back to that natural process. And then it helps with controlling the invasives and things like that as well. So, just wanted to share that. Another wonderful part of this trail is when you come over through the woods here and over this dune, you get this beautiful view of the remnant of the Great Marsh area here. Great habitat for migratory birds that are coming for a nice resting area, some food. An abundance of wildlife lives out there as in any wetland, and okay, I hear some of my friends. I want to go down and see some of these frogs.
Spring time. Great time for listening to the wildlife out here, especially in the marsh area. I hear some spring peepers and some chorus frogs. Little wetlands, like this little wetland area, is the perfect place where they mate, they lay their eggs. There's a lot of food sources in there too, a little macro invertebrate and such. And I'll hike up here and show you my favorite part of the whole entire trail.
From the low area down here by the Great Marsh, this is probably the steepest incline you're gonna have going up the backside of this dune ridge here, but the view's way worth it. Okay, what we're about halfway there. We're gonna head up to that point right there.
Now you're here, this is one of my favorite parts in the whole entire park. I've been a ranger here for 30-some years, and this is one of the best views I've found. This Great Marsh-- I can just imagine sometimes how much it went on, how large it was. The abundance of wildlife that depended on it but still does today. That's why we have national parks. To save and protect for our future generations to have views like this, but also mainly for the plants and animals that depend on these areas for their survival. Wow, come out here and hike this trail. See this view. It's quite spectacular.
Another great advantage of hiking this trail in the spring is you can actually get a glimpse of Lake Michigan, a beautiful huge dune ridge right off of its shores out here. Golly, that is just beautiful.
Well, we just saw that spectacular view, one of my favorite parts in the whole entire park. And now right around the bend, look. I'm gonna descend down into these mighty oaks. All right.
Well, we were talking about dune succession and how habitats changed through time has a lot to do with the soil. So, I just wanted to, saw a really good example here of a soil horizon, and right down in here, and what's really nice is as the changing-- as it changes with the leaf litter and the decomposition and such, the soil gets to the point where it can hold moisture a little better. And it also has a lot more nutrients in it and the soil temperature, which allows more diversity, more plants to grow here, which then you have more animals coming into the area. That's just kind of a little part of that dune succession how habitats change here in the dunes through time.
Well I've had a blast hiking the Dune Ridge Trail with everyone. I hope you enjoyed it too. Please, please keep in mind stay on the trail the best you can, poison ivy, a lot of ticks. Ticks are bad, real bad. All ready in the spring, we've been finding ticks out here, but nonetheless it's not a reason to not come out to hike. S,o find your park. Mine is this park. Find your spot, mine's this spot, you saw it, I showed you my secret little spot. I love it. There's many more in this park. So, anyways hope you enjoyed it. Come out and hike the dunes.
Hey, one more thing: if you enjoyed this virtual hike and you get a chance to come out, take some photos and post them, post them on the comments on our site. We'd like to see them. Thanks.
Join Ranger JP as he takes us on a spring hike along the Dune Ridge Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park.