DUNE ACRES | Exactly 100 years ago to the day, Henry Chandler Cowles, the pioneering ecologist who studied in the Indiana Dunes, led a group of international scientists on a hike of the area that would be named for him, Cowles Bog.
Saturday morning, a group of volunteers walked the same path.
Henry Chandler Cowles was a professor at the University of Chicago during the late 1800s and early 1900s who helped to establish the field of ecology after traveling repeatedly to Indiana Dunes to study the area’s biodiversity.
With specialists and naturalists from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the U.S. Geological Survey, participants from Chicago traveled by bus, instead of by train, as the original group from Europe and America would have, before enjoying a lunch and lecture at the Paul H. Douglas Center.
“They were part of the Phytogeographic Excursion. They were a bunch of botany geeks together and having fun. These were important people who started the field of ecology. They were the movers and shakers in ecology,” said Noel Pavlovic, research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey as he showed a photo of the original group clad in suits, hats, full-length dresses and carting plenty of luggage.
Rangers with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore were careful to point out the differences and similarities of the landscape between now and the Cowles studies, including the prevalence of red maple instead of sedges and tamarack, the presence of industry, and the loss of species such as rare orchids.
Pavlovic stopped at one point along the hike to note a yellow birch and said, “They used to come this way and at this tree is where they would stop and talk and eat,” before enlisting the help of two children to measure the diameter of the tree at 63 centimeters.
“This area today would be covered with conifers and there would have been a beautiful display of pink moccasin flowers, orchids. Today we have only two left but we are in efforts to augment the orchid population,” said Dan Mason, a botanist with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Cowles Bog, which is actually a fen, the alkaline version of a bog, was established as a national landmark in 1965 and restoration efforts are visibly underway as trees lining the trails are “girdled” to kill them and piles and piles of logs appear along the entrance to the wetland.
And even though the bog is technically a fen, Mason says that some restoration efforts should be left alone.
“One doesn’t want to curse poor Cowles by changing the name at this point,” he joked.