Adjacent to campus, IU Northwest is establishing, expanding, and managing a nature preserve in the heart of Gary. The Little Calumet River Prairie & Wetlands Nature Preserve consists of 11 acres of prairie, wetland, and woodland immediately north of the main campus parking lot. Prior to settlement, the site featured the Little Calumet River as it meandered among associated wetlands and low dunes. During settlement, the river was straightened and ditched, and the wetlands filled in and covered with topsoil. The lowest areas still retain water and the whole area is vulnerable to flooding during heavy rain.
The Little Calumet River Prairie & Wetlands is a nature preserve that restores ecological habitats once common in the local area. The Prairie & Wetlands primary goal is to have more than 250 native plant species living on the site. Prior to the intense flood of 2008, that goal had been reached, however due to flooding, plant diversity was diminshed. With knowledge gained, the site is now at 200 species and is being partially reworked to better withstand flood conditions.
Follow-up stewardship is led by Spencer Cortwright, Ph.D. of the Department of Biology with assistance from the IU Northwest Biology Club and Vertebrate Zoology classes. Stewardship focuses on herbicide application, continued seeding to build a hefty native seed bank, continued plug transplant, and the application of prescribed fire starting.
Alongside the efforts to preserve and restore an ecologically significant natural area, IU Northwest seeks to raise community awareness of the scientific and cultural relevance of preserving the unique ecosystems of the Little Calumet River Prairie & Wetlands Nature Preserve.