Kline Wetlands and Wetland Conservation Area prospers as the newest
of three wetland projects
established in the mid-1900s at Lake Maxinkuckee.
By Frederick Karst
Photography by Richard Fields
Bullfrogs croak amid the cattails, and an insect buzzes above your head, its droning punctuated by honks from a flock of Canada geese.
The sound of rushing water grows fainter as you walk along the levee that protects the marsh.
Dragonflies soar through warm air that is saturated with fragrance. A snapping turtle moves slowly at your right, a muskrat splashes in the water, and at your approach a sord of mallards takes flight.
A family of Canada geese watch for 'surprise attacks' from territorial redwing blackbirds nesting along a levee at Kline Wetlands.
In the distance, a sailboat glides along the azure surface of Lake Maxinkuckee, which is the destination of water runoff that filters through the Kline Wetland.
During the 19th century Indiana's second largest natural lake brought cottagers and outdoors enthusiasts, as well as scientific researchers. The authors of a turn-of-the-19th-centurystudyreferredto Maxinkuckee as the most studied lake in the world. They also reported wetlands along the shore, one around the outlet to Little Lake Maxinkuckee and another "marsh about the Norris Inlet... about 80 rods wide and one-half-mile long,... a flat, level, quaking bog full of holes."
The marsh attracted artists, like Impressionist Richard Gruelle of the Hoosier Group, who painted there, in addition to hunters and bird watchers. Although the quaking bog apparently had disappeared, for years marsh hay was cut at the site annually to supply icehouses across the lake in Culver.
About 20 years ago, some members of the Lake Maxinkuckee Association who had grown up around the lake realized it was changing. A study by limnologist Thomas Crisman warned the lake was moving from a mesotrophic to a eutrophic condition and that as little as five to 10 years remained to save it.
That led to the creation of the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Fund and later the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council to undertake specific projects, starting with wetlands to filter water entering the lake on three of the 12 inlets.
Horses from the Culver Academie's Black Horse Troop graze near Wilson Wetland (left)
Dense vegetation including cattails and ferns act as a biological sponge to filter runoff water before it reaches the lake (right).
A juvenile toad basks on duckweed at the wetland's edge.
The 2.2-acre Wilson Wetland, possibly the first of its kind in Indiana, was constructed in 1987 on Culver Academies land and paid for by the Academies. It filters water approaching the lake from the northeast through the Wilson Ditch, adjacent to pastures used by horses of the Black Horse Troop.
The Curtiss Wetland followed in 1990, creating a 12-acre natural area east of the lake on land owned by Arthur and Nancy Baxter, a site like the Wilson Wetland that originally was not a wetland, but pasture land along Curtiss Ditch (sometimes called Aubbeenaubbee Creek).
The DNR's Lake Enhancement program provided $10,589 for design and $60,000 for construction. The balance of the $112,000 cost was raised locally by the LMEF.
The last and largest wetland is the Kline, the most successful in the opinion of James Ray, who directs the DNR program that assisted the last two projects, as chief of land and water conservation in the DNR's Division of Soil Conservation.
Funded by a $5 boat fee, the program, now called Lake and River Enhancement, provided $11,411 for design of the Kline project with the rest of the $145,831 coming from donations.
The Kline diverted water from an artificial channel at the southeast end of the lake, restoring part of the area noted in the turn-of-the-century study at the Norris Inlet.
Aquatic plants and water-tolerant trees have become well established along the levees of Kline wetland.
Natural beauty in wetlands is only enhanced by the bright blue skies and vibrant shades of green of a sunny summer day (right).
Nesting boxes provide ready-made shelter for birds at Kline Wetlands (right).
A later DNR grant provided $28,272 of the $40,095 cost for driving sheet piling to keep muskrats from burrowing through the levee. In the first two wetlands, native wetland plants were introduced; in the Kline, returning water brought back natural wetlands vegetation.
Each project met problems. Horses were able to enter the Wilson Wetland, destroying the vegetation. After they were fenced out, newly planted vegetation washed out or was eaten by Canada geese. Recently, geese have been kept out with plastic netting, and plants have been set in coconut-fiber "Bogmat."
The environmental council and the Baxters, owners of the land on which the Curtiss was built, have not always agreed on goals and their implementation. Of concern for the Baxters was a growth of underwater plants that limited open water for canoeing and fishing, but which the LMEC felt was performing the job of filtering nutrients. During 1999, the Baxters introduced triploid (sterile) grass carp to curb what they describe as a smelly brown mass in the water and scum on the surface.
A ditch that was dug about 1967 at the Kline site was similar to a ditch that had been dug nearby a couple of years before to create Venetian Village, a housing development on the South Shore. Earlier channeling also exists to the north at Culver Marina.
The 76-acre Kline site was sold to the DNR, becoming the Maxinkuckee Wetland Conservation Area.
A fly finds a suitable perch on the flower of the blue fig, a native iris, at the eastern side of Kline wetland (left).
A dragonfly guards against intruders to its territory at the Wilson wetland (right).
Not far from the watchful eye of its mother, a fawn emerges from cover to explore the restored wetlands at Culver Acadamies' Wilson wetland.
At first, the design level of water killed cattails and other vegetation; the water was later lowered by 6 inches, and the plants started to come back.
However, vandals stuffed objects into the outlet pipe and placed rocks on the spillway in an effort to raise the water level. Tina Hissong, executive director of the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council, noted that higher water might improve duck hunting, while diminishing the effectiveness of the wetland for nonpoint source pollution control.
The Kline initially provided a habitat for songbirds that hadn't existed before, said bird-watcher Matthew Enos. He said it attracted the marsh wren and sora rail in abundance. Even more significant were sightings of the yellow-crowned night heron and black-crowned night heron.
Michael Hooker, another bird watcher, noted other species, the least bittern and the Virginia rail, seldom observed in Marshall County. Most of these birds disappeared when the water level rose, they said. The conditions for bird watching may be better now, according to Hissong.
Tests show the quality of water entering the lake has improved, although the DNR's James Ray said he "wouldn't expect to see measurable improvement in the short term in the condition of a lake." Some think it's better, while others aren't as sure.
Tina Hissong, executive director of the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council, stands at the edge of the Curtiss wetland. Although differences of opinion exist regarding wetland management strategies, Hissong finds encouragement in the attitude of landowners and public agencies, which have cooperated in efforts to keep Lake Maxinkuckee healthy in the long run.
A three-masted vessel owned by the Culver Academies and maintained by its cadets is surrounded by clear blue water at the north end of Lake Maxinkuckee, Indiana's second largest natural lake.
Robert Robertson, DNR district fisheries biologist, called Lake Maxinkuckee the "nicest in the state" and lauded the environmental council and others who made the wetlands a "model for the rest of Indiana. Maxinkuckee still has many of the same species of fish reported in the study over 100 years ago," he said.
Fishing for walleye is great. Yet, Glen Schrimsher, who has been fishing the lake since the 1940s, used to concentrate on panfish, like bluegills. He recalled fishing with the late expert Maxinkuckee fisherman Morsell E. (Bob) Hodges off Long Point, pulling in bluegills all day long. After the re-introduction of walleyes by the DNR in the 1980s, he switched to bass.
Another angler, Latham Lawson has caught yellow perch in the lake for 25 years. He said the perch have been bigger in the last couple of years.
Tom Sams started coming to Lake Maxinkuckee with his family in 1950 at age 8. The current president of the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Fund, he calls the Wilson Wetland the most beautiful of the three, "just gorgeous." He thinks the lake is clearer but wonders how much is due to the wetlands and how much to the filtering effect of the zebra mussel, which invaded Lake Maxinkuckee about five years ago. He said it's now possible to see bottom where boaters "haven't seen it for a hundred years."
A hopeful development is a report showing a sharp decline of an under-water nuisance plant, Eurasian milfoil. Hissong also remembers "patches of weed beds" that created hazards for water-skiers when she was growing up in the '70s. Now they are gone.
DNR fisheries biologist Stu Shipman measures a Lake Maxinkuckee walleye. Surveys show stocked walleye thrive in the lake (left).