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Miller Woods Trail // Gary, IN

Submitted by: Stephen Lehman

For the busy adventurer Location: Cost: Free Hours: Sunrise-Sunset What to expect: Learning center, trails, boardwalk, Black Oak Savanna

Hello Dune Goers! It’s been a few weeks  since I last wrote a blog. Normally, I would blog about one of the South Shore area beaches but I’ve hit every major beach from Gary, IN to New Buffalo, MI! On Easter, I was able to get out to the Miller Woods Trail in Gary, IN. There is parking right off of Lake St. (see the link above). The clouds looked pretty dull and there most definitely wasn’t going to be a colorful sunset, so I was a little worried that it might be boring to photograph. To my surprise, the National Lakeshore just finished a prescribed burn of almost the entire area!

If you look closely in this photo, you can see the black soot covering the forest floor. You’ll be able to see more of it in the photos to come. I found a sign that explained that only 0.02% of the Midwest’s Oak Savanna’s are left and that Miller Woods is the original home of one of them. The prescribed burning takes out shrubs and forest floor plants and helps enrich the soil with much needed nutrients, among many other positive side effects. Not only did I learn a lot, but I walked into an interesting situation from a photography point-of-view. It’s not everyday that I get to walk through a burned forest.

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As I was getting closer to the burned section of the woods, I saw this boardwalk. Boardwalks through marshy lands are always a blast to walk over. The feeling of being in the middle of otherwise unnavigable terrain is addictive. You can find this boardwalk right in the middle of the Miller Woods Trail. This next photo is easily one of my favorites from my hike.

This is a perfect example of what I saw. The smell of burned wood and leaves filled the air and reminded me of an autumn bonfire. The path in the middle stood out because of the lightly colored sand. Walking this trail made me feel like I was in a movie. As far as I could see was burned. It’s amazing how resilient the oaks are. The oak’s bark works as an insulator and their roots run deep allowing them to withstand the heat and open flame. There are so many great metaphors for life to be discovered amongst these trees.

The trail continued in many different directions, but thankfully there were signs to help me understand where I was going. The main loop is relatively short and could be hiked in 30 minutes or less. I, of course found myself wandering off without reading any of the signs. Hill after hill and dune after dune lead me to more marshy land and fire scarred land.

I finally realized I was on my way towards the lake. As I was making my way north, I stumbled upon another intriguing sight: the edge of the prescribed burn. It’s interesting to see just what type of shrubs and grass were burned by looking at the unburned side. Prescribed burns are planned with precision and watched with great caution. There is not doubt, this was planned ahead of time.

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To finish off my hike surrounded by black soot and seeming death, I was met with a sight of obvious life. I caught this little beaver out of the corner of my eye in just enough time to stop in my tracks as to not startle him. I slowly raised my camera and took as many photos as I could. This one was the best I could get, given the circumstances. Shortly after running into this little guy, I found many examples of his handiwork.

The Miller Woods Trail was one of learning and wandering. I suggest going out for a visit soon so that you can catch it in its burnt state. I know that they do prescribed burns every couple of years, so if you don’t make it out, you’ll have another chance. I hope you have as much fun as I did! Take some great photos while you’re at it!

Until next time my friends, get outside!

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