There are only two virgin prairies left in all of Indiana. One of those prairies is roughly where Griffith, Highland and Schererville, Indiana have a common border in the extreme Northwest corner of the state. It is landscape design by Nature.
As a kid I rode my bike and as an adult have driven my car past there literally thousands of times. If the absolute truth be known, as a teenager I drank beer in there with my buddies and we never gave a second thought about where we were or what we might be disturbing.
A couple of years ago I stopped and took a walk through the prairie and savannah as an observer. I took in the beauty of the space for the first time and felt guilty that I had never before stopped and explored the area. I felt guilty that “back in the day” I left a can or two of Old Style on the ground to rust.
Last year I stopped again and took my camera with me. No beer, no buddies and no littering. It was peaceful and I was relaxed by the experience as I sat at the base of an old white oak. I closed my eyes and listened to a woodpecker. I watched and listened as a fox squirrel talked to me, apparently annoyed at my presence. Finally, I took a brief nap at the base of a bur oak.
There are over 1,500 acres at the Hoosier Prairie. Most of it is deemed virgin, having not been tilled, planted or grazed at any time. One small section that I remember being farmed as a kid has now also been returned to prairie. It’s an absolute miracle that the entire area escaped the Calumet Region industrial boom of the 50’s, 60’s.
While designated as Hoosier Prairie the area is also oak savannah and has prairie marsh habitat as well. Big bluestem, wild quinine, sweet fern and blue joint grass are indicator species of virgin growth and all are present in this park which was designated a National Natural Landmark back in 1974.
I’m not sure when the parking lot was introduced. It is a gravel lot, the entrance is small and there are no big signs announcing “Hoosier Prairie—You Have Arrived”. Maybe that’s why there are seldom more than two cars present while dozens whiz by on their way to the strip mall or on their way to work. After all, it’s only weeds, oak trees and swampy space on the way in or out of Griffith.
An oil tank farm, a funeral home and a gas station can easily be seen from the Hoosier Prairie. They are certainly not part of the ambiance. There are no impressive dunes that you might see, like along the Lake Michigan corridor nor are there any ponds to draw in visitors. There are no rides or other attractions calling out to passersby. But if you stop and walk a small distance into the prairie or savannah its singularity can both impress and overwhelm you.
This year when I stop my camera will again be with me. And I’ll have a magazine and a bag chair so I don’t have to sit at the base of tree. I will read, relax and maybe take a snooze as I marvel at those weeds, oak trees and the landscape design of Nature.