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.
HEBRON | With more than 2,000 acres of dynamic habitat to explore, the Grand Kankakee Marsh is a walker's paradise.
More than 30 miles of flat trails provide access to the Grand Kankakee marshland, woods, river and wetlands. The Lake County park, located in Hebron, is also a great place to watch migrating birds while checking out the natural habitat.
"Preservation and restoration of these natural habitats is one of the primary goals of the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department," said Sandra Basala, superintendent of visitor services.
Because of its location along the Kankakee River, seasonal flooding affects the park, but in dynamic ways. It helps provide ideal feeding in the fields for different types of wildlife, for example, she said.
Large deer herds, several duck species and many other types of wildlife also call this region home because of its densely wooded areas and remnants of old river channels.
"Because Clay Street, or Range Line Road, goes right through the park, many people think the Grand Kankakee Marsh County Park is only what they see on either side of the road, but the park extends west to well beyond I-65 and to the east past the county line," Basala said.
The park is not only expansive in size, but in history as well.
The marsh once consisted of between 500,000 and 600,000 acres of marshland. It was the largest contiguous marsh in Indiana and one of the largest on the continent.
When settlements pushed west, agriculture wiped out part of the marshland because of its prime soil for farming.
The Lake County Parks and Recreation Department acquired the land in 1977, with assistance from the Nature Conservancy.
While it has been developed for wildlife, those who live in the region also have enjoyed activities such as fishing, hunting and hiking. Horseback riding is also permitted on the levee trails and a public boat ramp provides access to the Kankakee River during most of the year.
"When you walk deeper into the park, it is so peaceful and beautiful," Basala said. "It's like being in another world right here in Lake County."
Because it is a marsh, Basala advises walkers to bring mosquito repellent and sunscreen, and to wear long pants, shoes and socks when hiking through the woods.
"And don't forget your camera," she said.
Grand Kankakee Marsh County Park is located at 21690 Range Line Road, Hebron. For more information, go to lakecountyparks.com.