Rain doesn’t dampen spirits at Muscatatuck Wetland Day


The rain didn’t keep Kim and Bill Sturgill from bringing their grandchildren to Wetland Day earlier this month at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.

The Seymour couple visit the refuge frequently, and Wetland Day on March 14 made their third trek out there that week.

“We enjoy coming out here, and it’s fun to see the otters,” Kim said. “Today, we brought our grandkids, Raelyn and Aiden, and got here just as things were getting started.”

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The children had just finished planting purple coneflower seeds into soil blocks to take home and plant.

“When these are grown, they will feed some very hungry caterpillars and birds,” said volunteer Terri Stephenson, whose station was set up outside. “They are very pretty flowers, and they’re good for the environment.”

The special day was a celebration of the 117th birthday of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and birthday cake was served.

The event also was part of a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Wetland Day is an opportunity to educate visitors at the refuge about wetlands with a variety of fun wetland-oriented interactive activities for children and adults at the visitor center.

Besides planting flower seeds in soil blocks, there were exhibit tables with volunteer demonstrations, a wetland scavenger hunt with prizes and a guided wetland walk, which was led by volunteer Dave Coppert.

He said his particular interest is in the trees, and there are a couple of specimens at the refuge that have been nominated for state champion for their species.

“I’m starting to run out of places to look, but there are some very pretty trees out here,” Coppert said. “I also like the birds, the butterflies and the dragonflies, and I stop to look at the wildflowers along the trail.”

Megan Mullins of Seymour brought her children, Emme, 5, and Elias, 2, to the refuge visitor center for the festivities.

The kids were looking at macroinvertebrates, which are organisms without backbones. They had been dipped out of a pond and placed in containers by volunteer Kirsten Carlson.

“Our table is about using the macroinvertebrtaes to determine indicators for water quality,” Carlson said. “The critters we are finding here now are very intolerant of pollution, so that tells you the wetlands are working as a sponge to absorb and make quality water.”

Elias was excited as he looked through a magnifying glass into a container of pond water.

“I see a bug,” he said.

Megan said it was nice to bring the children out for the event since it was looking like they would be home for a while.

“We love coming out here and going out on the trails, and we also go fishing and mushroom hunting,” she said. “The kids love to play on the playground area, and we even get our family pictures taken out here. We’ve been coming out here for a while.”

Cassie Stilwell, the assistant property manager at Starve Hollow State Recreation Area, brought her sons, Wyatt, 5, and Sawyer, 2, to Wetland Day.

“We live on the property at Starve, and I studied wildlife biology, so we’re always outside,” Stilwell said. “I was excited to bring the boys here today.”

She said sometimes, they like to go outside at night, and the boys like to look for frogs.

“We used to raise monarch butterflies at home, and now, we raise them at the nature center at Starve Hollow,” Stilwell said. “We go out and look for milkweed leaves and check for eggs and then put them in containers and just keep feeding the caterpillars as they grow.”

Columbus residents Steve and Michele Bloomer said they visit the refuge frequently and enjoyed Wetland Day.

“We took some trails here earlier this morning and walked down around the cabin,” Steve said. “Now, we just finished the scavenger hunt and won a couple of Frisbees and magnifying glasses as prizes.”

Ralph Cooley and Mike Waggoner volunteered at the wetland critters table.

Waggoner, who lives in Brownstown, also is taking the Master Naturalist class at the refuge. He retired last year and is happy he has more time to spend at the refuge.

“We have all kinds of neat and educational things here that Mike and I are telling people about,” Cooley said. “These wetland critters were dipped out of the wetlands this morning.”

Cooley picked up one of the crayfish and turned it over, showing a bunch of tiny eggs attached to its underside.

“This crayfish has an attitude, and all those eggs underneath it will soon be crayfish babies,” Cooley said. “Crayfish dig holes and build little mud towers, and a lot of times, they only come out at night.”

He also brought a bucket containing frog eggs retrieved from the wetland at his home in Jennings County.

“There are so many educational things here at the refuge,” Cooley said. “I’ve volunteered here for many years, and my late wife and I both did.”

He said the refuge is a magical place to him because you never know what you’re going to see or what you’re going to find.

Cooley was reminded of a quote by author Dean Koontz, who said, “If you allow yourself to be enchanted by the beauty to be seen in even ordinary things, then all things prove to be extraordinary.”

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