by Jim Eagleman
The entire three-day event can be viewed on line at two local websites. Check out the Hoosier National Forest link at <www.fs.fed.us/rg/hooiser/docs/events/wildflower.htm>. For a closer-to-home site and easier to type site go to <www.tcsteele.org> and click on the Wildflower Foray link. Both sites will reveal the brochure that includes hike titles and programs, starting times, and locations. Print off the brochure and plan to attend several throughout the three-day event.
I often get asked how the event got started. I recall two excited sisters, Susie Roush, and Marilyn Rudd, who attended a wildflower pilgrimage together in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about 25 years ago. They came back with reports of wonderful plant and bird excursions into the park led by enthusiastic and knowledgeable people. Some leaders were nearby university staff, some on park staff, and others were hobbyists. While the theme was the beauty, identification, and ecologic relevance of the herbaceous plants of the area, other natural occurrences were observed, too. They called me to ask how we could offer an equally-enjoyable weekend in Brown County. The three of us began planning the first Foray that took place on the last Saturday in April.
The format of the events has remained much the same over the years although planning committee members, special events, and some presenters have changed. On Friday, April 24, events begin with a 9:00 a.m. wildflower walk through Selma Steele Nature Preserve at T.C. Steele State Historic Site. This traditional hike has been made even more popular with hike leader and author, Kay Yatskievych joining the group. Kay is accompanied this year by Davie Kean, T.C. Steele staff member, and Tom Swinford, DNR regional ecologist, from the Indianapolis Division of Nature Preserves. The hike has become so popular it is offered again the same day at 1:00 p.m.
Want to try your luck with digital photography? Then look for wildflower/wildlife award-winning photographer Jeff Hammond. Jeff is joined by BirdCountryUS director, Jeff Riegel for a “Focus on Wildflowers” photo carpool tour. The tour also begins at 9:00 a.m. on Friday at the T.C. Steele property.
Hikes continue all day Friday with an evening carpool tour to listen to and watch for the elusive “timber-doodle” or American Woodcock. Jeff Riegel and I will meet all interested birders at the upper parking lot at T.C. Steele at 8:00 p.m. Bring lawn chairs and blankets.
Saturday events include: an early bird T.C. Steele hike at 7:00 a.m., hikes at Brown County State Park, Griffy Lake, Deam Wilderness area, Hitz-Rhodehamel Preserve, and the popular Lake Monroe Backwaters boat tour with Monroe wildlife specialist Rex Watters. The Foray results announcements, a unique “if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em” exotic plant supper (along with other foods), and silent auction end the day at the Recreation Building at Brown County State Park (park entry fee required).
But don’t forget Sunday, April 25. Events begin at 9:00 a.m. with a unique “wildflower yoga” class, led by Nature Center staff member Brittany Davis. Hikes, a conservation craft session, and children’s photo workshop last into the afternoon.
For the milestone 25th Foray next year Kay Yatskievych hopes to have records and data compiled to give us a look at a quarter century of local wildflower blooming times, numbers, and rare species. But if you ever wondered what becomes of researcher field notes, photos, phenology charts (blooming time comparisons), and sketches, join us for this year’s Wildflower Foray. Don’t wait till next year.
If you have any questions call the State Park’s Nature Center, (812) 988-5240 or T.C. Steele State Historic Site at (812) 988-2785.