Research shows walking benefits both the body and the mind, and the Northwest Indiana region is full of parks, trails and nature preserves that highlight the beauty and diverse landscape of the area. Throughout the summer in Home and Garden, the Times will highlight some of the best places to walk and enjoy the unique topography this region has to offer.
HAMMOND | Tucked away in northeast Lake County is a parcel of undisturbed land known for its tranquility and rare environmental features.
Gibson Woods Nature Preserve is a special place among nature enthusiasts, ironic because of its location in the heart of Northwest Indiana's industrial region. Other than the National Lakeshore, Gibson Woods is the longest un-dissected dune ridge in Indiana, making it an urban oasis for outdoor lovers and ecologists alike.
Though owned and operated by the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department, the natural features of Gibson Woods qualifies it to be dedicated as a state nature preserve, said Sandra Basala, superintendent of visitor services with Lake County Parks.
"Many people have no idea that the preserve is there because of its location in the city," she said.
Surrounded by 131 acres of topography that is a well-preserved example of the landscape as it appeared 4,000 years ago, the preserve's three-mile trail system begins with a handicapped accessible boardwalk before the natural sand of the dune and swale topography takes over, Basala said.
"The Short Trail or the Prairie Dune Trail is about a half mile long and is closest to the Nature Center, making it a popular route for families," she said. "The Nippissing Lake Trail is about one mile long and traverses the west side of the park, while the two-mile Long Trail ventures into the eastern portion of the preserve."
The trails are of flat terrain and follow the dune ridges, she said. However, because Indiana has dedicated the space as a nature preserve, dogs and bicycles are not allowed and flora and fauna may not be removed from the grounds.
Walking along the trails, guests will observe a dynamic place that is ever changing, Basala said.
"Sometimes water fills the swales and sometimes they are dry," she said." In the early spring and late fall, migratory birds stop by Gibson Woods on their journey."
A trip to the park in June will be highlighted by beautiful wildflowers and flowering trees, she said.
"More than 300 species of plants have been identified in the preserve, several of which are considered threatened or endangered," Basala said.
More than 160 species of birds have been recorded at the preserve, which is also home to endangered or rare animals in Indiana.
Gibson Woods Nature Preserve is located at 6201 Parrish Ave., Hammond. For more information, call 219.844.3188 or go to lakecountyparks.com.