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MICHIGAN CITY | The Shirley Heinze Land Trust recently hosted its annual Appreciation Event with guided hikes at Ambler Flatwoods Nature Preserve, followed by a luncheon at Krueger Middle School.

The event is held to thank donors and volunteers and report on the work the organization has accomplished during the year.

The Heinze trust recognized Pam Thompson and Mike Koscielniak, of Michigan City, as Volunteers of the Year for their work as site stewards at Ambler Flatwoods. Neighbors of the preserve, they keep an eye on the property and notify staff of any problems they find. They also patrol and maintain the trail system.

The Friends of Shirley Heinze group recognized two region families for including native plants in their home landscaping. The “Bringing Nature Home” awards promote the use of native plants, which provide a critical source of food, shelter and migration waystations for insects, birds and other wildlife. A Corporate/Civic category of these awards will be presented at the organization’s Community Luncheon on Friday at The Spa in Porter.

The group recognized Susan and Jeremy Bannwart, of rural LaPorte County, who began using native plants in their new home about four years ago.

Susan obtained her plants primarily from the LaPorte County Soil and Water Conservation District native plant sale, but she plans to create new native plantings using seeds generated in her own garden. Gardening with native plants "just makes more sense," Susan said. "They belong here."

Also recognized were Hobart residents Sandy and Michael O’Brien, who have been gradually adding native plants to their 15-acre property since 1994. Once farm and hay fields, it now accommodates a five-acre prairie, a wetland, sedge meadow and a large pond created as part of a wetland mitigation project.

The O’Briens have rescued plants from local construction sites, making the flora more diverse and creating, as Sandy said, a sort of botanical “zoo displaying what was once native to local areas but has been lost to development or to invasive species and brush.”

For more information about the Bringing Nature Home award, visit www.heinzetrust.org/bringing-nature-home.html.

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Community Coordinator

Annette is Community Coordinator for The Times. She has been with the paper for two decades. A resident of Hobart, she graduated from Purdue University with degrees in English and German.