PINE TOWNSHIP — From the top of the platform, visitors would be hard pressed to guess that what they were looking at was once farmland.
Now covered with water, with reeds and trees shooting up and a croaking bullfrog in the background, visitors to the Carol Cook Wetland Overlook have a chance to spot an egret, heron or variety of ducks on any given day.
The approximate 2-acre parcel is owned by the Porter County chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America. It is one of five properties the group has either purchased or received through donation that they are not only preserving, but also using as an educational tool in their conservation efforts.
The overlook, at 582 E. CR 1200 North, actually overlooks wetlands reclaimed by Jim Phares, an Ikes member, about 30 years ago.
"This protected wetland is in our tool box of conservation education," said club President Jim Sweeney. "You can enjoy the view and see a lot of wildlife. You can learn that wetlands are important to clean water and to habitats."
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The platform is under construction thanks to Boy Scout Troop 929 of Chesterton, which is undertaking the construction as part of an Eagle Scout project. They'll also be installing a walkway. The Discovery 4-H club will soon be building and helping to erect an osprey platform.
The Porter County Ikes, said member Bill Iltzsche, is different. It doesn't have a clubhouse, and is strictly conservation- and education-minded.
The group was founded in 1958. Founding members Herb and Charlotte Read initiated the chapter in addition to their efforts in helping establish the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Since its inception, the club has gathered five parcels of property under its wing. In addition to Carol Cook Wetland Overlook — named after an artist and Save the Dunes member — the club owns Bedenkop Spring Run, a 50-acre total quality deer management area just around the corner from Carol Cook; the 60-acre Frame Family Little Calumet area at the confluence of Reynolds Creek and County Line Road; Missauga, a 10-acre parcel also on County Line Road and the newest addition, the Terry McClosky Ravine Nature Preserve adjacent to the Purdue University Northwest Westville campus.
Most of the property was purchased through Enbridge line 6B mitigation funds matched with state money. The Missauga property was donated as part of a mitigation agreement.
While only the Carol Cook area is officially opened to the public for now, the Ikes host events at the Frame property and recently dedicated the first phase of a nature playground there.
The playground, said member Annette Hansen, will allow children to have fun while learning about nature.
Iltzsche said they also bring their education efforts into the classroom, putting on programs in Duneland Community Schools and in some Valparaiso Community Schools during Family Nature Nights.
"We are doing conservation on the ground, getting dirty, getting wet. We want to share our efforts with the public and get more kids outside," said Sweeney.
Hansen said they have also been working with a group of computer engineering interns from Valparaiso University to build a new website for the group. Anyone interested in more information or in helping the group can contact them through nwiconservation.org.
(Editor's note: This story was edited from its original version.)