Want to volunteer at Allen County Parks?

We would love to have you!!!!

We need volunteers for all kinds of activities, be it
program help, maintenance help, removal of invasive
species, filling bird feeders, small construction projects, hosts/hostess, anything you’d like to do!!

All potential volunteers for the Allen County Parks
Department must complete a volunteer application
before volunteering. A link to this application can be
found at our website on the Volunteer in the Allen
County Parks page.

What's Happening at Metea County Park?

To view a complete and up-to-date list of activities occurring at Metea Park, please see the Wild Grapevine, available at the Allen County Parks website.

Take a Hike! Native Animals

November 8, Saturday, 11 AM

Take a hike with park naturalist Rachel Rossiter Smith to look for native animals.

Cedar Creek valley is the perfect place to look since it is in such a natural state. We’ll discuss non-natives, extirpated species and more. Dress for the weather, we’ll go out rain or shine!

Program fee of $2 per person, kids 6 and under are free. Pre-registration is required by November 3; call 449-3777.

Caving Adventure

Pre-caving class Thursday, October 30, 7:30 PM, and cave trip on Saturday, November 8, all day

Go underground with Allen County Parks. Caving instructor and naturalist Bob Dispenza will be leading a trip to the Garrison Chapel Karst area near Bloomington on Saturday, November 8.

We’ll be exploring a wild cave in the area and going off the beaten path, looking for cave wildlife and unusual formations.

Mandatory pre-caving class is Thursday, October 30, 7:30 PM at Metea County Park.

Class fee of $20.00 per person, due on October 30, covers maps and caving instruction. Learn about geology, cave life, needed equipment and cave formation.

This activity is somewhat strenuous, but suitable for beginners. Call 449-3777 or email metea@allencountyparks.org to make reservations.

Fourth Friday Night Hike - Metea NORTH

October 24, 7:30 PM

North Metea on Hursh Road between Puff and Halter Roads

This is a family friendly night hike about some of the creepy creatures in nature and why they may not be so creepy after all.

Explore one of our wildest parks at a wild time of year. Flashlights optional, and will not be used on the hike.

Cost is $2. To register call 449-3777.

Viruses – Our Smallest Wildlife

By Bob Dispenza, Director of Education, Allen County Parks

Computer viruses periodically make the news. The only relation these have to biological, “living” viruses is that they are small, insidious, work from the inside and cause damage. Natural viruses do all these things, but they more than this. Little is know about most viruses, though they are around us everywhere. Most of the research into viruses has centered around those which cause human illness, but there are many others that infect bacteria, plants, and both wild and domestic animals.

The term “virus” comes from the Latin for slimy liquid or poison. The term “living” must be used with caution around viruses. There is still argument about whether they are extremely simple life forms or extremely complex chemicals that can produce copies of themselves. Most living things are “on” all the time – that is, enzymes are reacting in their cells constantly. Viruses are only “on” when they are inside a susceptible cell. Outside a cell they are as inert as any other lifeless chemical, and can even assume crystalline form like a mineral. Some can survive for long periods of time outside a living cell, but all are “obligate intracellular parasites”. They can only reproduce by commandeering the metabolic machinery of a living cell, a cell that is killed or drastically altered in the process.

Most viruses consist of two or three parts: a “core” made up of viral DNA or RNA with associated proteins; a “capsid” made of protein which protects the core; and sometimes an “envelope” made of modified material from the host cell. West Nile virus is one of those enveloped viruses, which means it is less hardy and doesn’t usually survive long outside of a host. Capsids often look remarkably like mineral crystals. Many (including West Nile) are icosahedrons, with 20 triangular sides and 12 corners.

Viral RNA or DNA tends to be very simple, sometimes having as few as three genes. A few viruses are so simple that they cannot reproduce without the presence of another, larger virus in the same cell. While the larger virus is parasitizing the cell, the smaller virus parasitizes the larger virus, stealing enzymes and proteins for its own use.

Hosts are often hard-pressed to fight off viruses, since virus genes evolve up to a million times faster than host genes. Viruses are responsible for sicknesses as common as warts and colds. They are also implicated in more deadly diseases – West Nile, dengue fever, AIDS, polio, hepatitis, rabies, and encephalitis. Viruses cause flu, and though it is not now thought of as deadly, it killed over 20 million people in the pandemic of 1918-1919. It’s not all bad news – smallpox may have been eliminated.

Control of viruses can be difficult. Chemical agents are of limited use – viruses are so simple and use so much of the host’s resources that damaging the virus would often involve damaging the host cell. Interferon, a protein secreted by virus-infected cells, can cause resistance to infection in surrounding cells. Immunity is a complex host response that works well, but it requires exposure to the virus itself or specific parts of the virus. Immunity to one virus does not mean immunity to all – there are over 100 different viruses that can cause cold symptoms.

Viruses can sometimes evade host defenses by inserting themselves into the host’s DNA and “disappearing”. Stress, chemicals and other factors may reactivate these viruses, producing disease. These “disappearing” viruses may cause some tumors.
Not usually thought of as wildlife, viruses still play an important part in any ecosystem. By moving DNA around and eliciting immune reactions they play a role in shaping the plants and animals we know today. Next time you get a cold you can take pride in the fact that you are providing habitat for our smallest wildlife.


By Bob Dispenza, Park and Education Manager, Allen County Parks

With cold weather approaching, those of us who don’t like skiing, sledding or skating may wish we could hibernate through the winter. While leading hikes, I usually discover that hibernation is widely misunderstood. But just what is hibernation, and who does it here in Indiana?

True hibernation is not like sleeping. It’s much closer to being dead. If you are sleeping and I shake you or make a loud noise, you may awaken. If I were to take a hibernating woodchuck out of his burrow, I could bounce him on the floor like a basketball and still not wake him. Hibernation involves a change in metabolism – how fast an animal burns energy. The point is to conserve energy for a long period of fasting in winter. An animal’s waking temperature may be 100°F, heart rate may be 100 beats per minute and breathing 70 times per minute. While hibernating, the same animal’s temperature may drop to 40°F, heart rate to 10 beats per minute, and breathing to 3 times per minute or less. Animals whose temperature does not drop (bears) are not true hibernators.

Cold-blooded animals (snakes, frogs, lizards, fish, insects, etc.) have no choice but to become inactive or die when temperatures drop below about 45°F, though gray tree frogs can freeze solid and still revive in the spring.

Though colder temperatures and the amount of fat an animal has put on help determine when to hibernate, the main cue is photoperiod. Shortening days in fall cause changes in behavior that lead to hibernation. Rising temperatures in spring appear to be the main reawakener.

Torpor is the temporary lowering of metabolism. A few warm-blooded animals use this as a short-term measure to overcome short-term adversity. Hummingbirds, who could starve to death overnight, may become torpid at night. Some carnivores and small mammals will do this also, especially during severe winter weather.

There are only a few warm-blooded species native to Indiana that actually hibernate. They can survive on stored fat without eating or drinking for several months. Probably the most famous is the woodchuck (Marmota monax), who uses up 30% of his fall body weight during hibernation. You could watch for him on February 2 (we’ll be having a special program that day at Metea County Park), but don’t expect to see him. All our native bats hibernate, though some fly south to do it. Bats also use daily torpor to conserve energy during adverse weather that keeps their insect prey from flying. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Spermophilus tridecimlineatus) are not common in Allen County, but are true hibernators. Their 200 beat-per-minute heart rate drops to below 20 beats per minute. Two species of jumping mouse – woodland (Neozapus insignis) and meadow (Zapus hudsonius) – look a little like miniature kangaroos. Up to 75% of hibernating meadow jumping mice never reawaken in the spring, having used up their fat reserves before warmer weather arrives. This completes our list of hibernators. All the other warm-blooded animals must struggle through winter, eating stored food or foraging as best they can. Even if they don’t make it, they will provide winter food for some other animal.

So if you’re considering hibernating this winter, don’t be like the jumping mice – put on plenty of extra weight. Pile on the gravy and stuffing, and go ahead, have that extra dessert.

Wildflowers in Spring

by Sarah (former Allen County Parks Outdoor Educator & Volunteer Coordination)

Maybe the songs of frogs don’t define the arrival of spring for you. There is no denying, however, that wildflowers herald the end of winter. It is so exciting to see green pushing its way up through leaves and dirt, and slowly spreading along twigs on trees and shrubs. While yellow daffodils may be appearing in your yard, it is white that’s blooming in the forest.

Christian Schult, our assistant director of education, brought in the first wildflower of the year a couple of weeks ago. It was a tiny mostly white blossom nearly lost at the tip of a short green plant. It has been identified as both pepper-and-salt and harbinger-of-spring, but common names make everything confusing (as opposed to scientific names in Latin). It is a dainty little flower, and a joy to see after such a cold and snowy winter.

Not too far behind is my mother’s favorite wildflower, Dutchman’s breeches. Probably the most distinctive flowers in the woods, they look like a string of puffy white pantaloons, trimmed with yellow, hung one-by-one down a slender green stalk, “waistband” down. These oddly shaped flowers are actually in the poppy family. The flowers look nothing like poppies (almost more like orchids), but the feathery leaves are almost reminiscent of ornamental poppy leaves (ok, you’ll have to stretch your imagination a bit).

Bloodroot flowers have finally arrived. This is a plant you should look up in a field guide if you are not familiar with it. The leaves are very distinctive; almost kidney shaped, but with a couple of deep, rounded cuts from the outside edge, creating large lobes. The flower itself is a decent-sized white flower, with eight to ten petals and a yellow center. This flower looks nothing like Dutchman’s breeches, but is also in the poppy family. If you’d really like to understand the plants in Papaveraceae, the poppy family, check The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (ISBN 394-50432-1). Bloodroot may sound a little gory, but it describes a fascinating identifying characteristic of this plant. The root is almost tuber-like, and when you break it, the plant juices that drip out are an orangy-red color. When smeared on the skin, it looks like blood (be warned- it stains!). This plant is an exciting and somewhat rare find, so be sure to simply enjoy it only be looking at it.

Yet another white flower that pops up early in the spring is the appropriately named spring beauty. A five petaled flower with accents of pink, this little gem has long, entire (smooth-edged), grass-like leaves. I might also add that it is rather tasty. The leaves would be delicious in a salad, for they taste like fresh, strong spinach. I’m told the flowers are also quite nice, and can even be a little on the sweet side if you can find a nectar filled blossom. It is not in the poppy family (it’s a purslane).

Be careful not to confuse spring beauties with cut-leaved toothwort. Another strange name, probably with folk medicine roots (anything ending with “wort” is rumored to heal the body part it is paired with. For example, “toothwort” might help with toothaches, “liverwort” might help your liver, etc. Will these really work, and are they even edible? Better double check with your doctor). The leaves are indeed deeply cut, or lobed, and have strongly toothed, or pointed, edges. The leaves are located a good ways up the stem, while the leaves of spring beauties grow up from the base. The flowers themselves are similar, except that cut-leaved toothwort has only four petals. In case you’re wondering, toothwort is a mustard.

So many flowers, so little time! Within a couple of weeks there will be an entirely new crop of flowers blooming. The best way to learn to identify wildflowers is to have someone point directly to the flower under your nose, and share a bit of its natural history with you. If you can gather together a group of at least five people, the education department would be happy to give you a personal tour of this spring show. Give us a call at 449-3180, and we’ll take you out in the county park of your choice, for $2 per person. Come out and enjoy the show!

Spicebush - Forsythia of the Woods

by Sarah (former Allen County Parks Outdoor Educator & Volunteer Coordinator)

Two weeks ago, I went out for a hike to check out the spring wildflowers. It wasn’t the little white flowers on the ground that demanded my attention, but the spicebush blossoms. Tiny explosions of highlighter-yellow line the branches of this incredible shrub. Among the bare branches of the other forest shrubs and saplings, it seems to flash raw sunshine through the woods.

It reminds me of the forsythias of my childhood, an ornamental that bloomed early with great profusions of bright yellow flowers. Mom made sure each of our houses had at least one or two forsythias. (Upon further research, I discovered that “forsythia of the woods” is actually a nickname for this plant. Guess I’m not as original as I’d like to think I am.) The bare twig always reminds me of a dirty green crayon, missing its paper wrapper. The leaves are simply a generic leafy green, once they’ve unfurled from their buds. The best, or most fun, way to identify this plant is by scent. If you scratch the surface of a twig, and sniff the bare wood underneath, the spicy aroma is almost overwhelming.

Spicebush is a wonderful native plant, with many uses. I’m told that you can take a twig of spicebush, and use it stir your ice tea, adding great flavor. You can even make a straight tea from the twigs. If you’ve neglected to bring enough water on your hike, supposedly you can chew on a spicebush twig to freshen your mouth. It has been used in a variety of medicinal concoctions, for everything from tonics to regulating menstrual cycles.

Personally, I think tea is the best use for this plant. I’ve even read stories that colonial Americans used spicebush tea during the boycott of British tea. My recommendation is to start with the swizzle stick in the iced tea option, and work your way up to pure spicebush tea. As always, you may want to consult your doctor first, to avoid allergic reactions and any other interactions, as spicebush is known to have medicinal qualities.

However, there is nothing wrong with simply enjoying spicebush for its aesthetic qualities. This not-so-tall woody plant is great for landscaping, especially since it is native to our Indiana landscape. It may be tricky to find in your local nursery, but you can certainly call around, or go online to order your own.

Using native plants for landscaping has so many benefits. First, you demonstrate Indiana pride by showcasing native flora around your home. Also, there are many plants invading our natural areas because of the spread of ornamental species. Up until a few years ago, I had a friend who sold purple loosestrife in her nursery, a plant that is now taking over many of our wetlands. This is one example of many. Using native plants also promotes your yard as wildlife habitat for some of Indiana’s most beautiful creatures. Our butterflies, moths, birds, and more need these plants in order to survive. Many butterflies require specific plants for their larval/caterpillar stage. The spicebush swallowtail, for example, will only eat spicebush, sassafras, and possibly magnolia and prickly ash foliage.

Though not as full-petaled as forsythia blossoms, spicebush flowers are still showy enough to be absolutely beautiful. Look for this shrub the next time you are out for a hike, or consider adding one to your yard. It will feed our butterflies, give shelter to the songbirds, and is sure to bring you sunshine, even on a drizzly day.

Venomous Spiders: Fangs of Death?

Bob Dispenza, Director of Education, Allen County Parks, Fort Wayne, IN

They lie patiently in wait, their many eyes glittering. At the first opportunity, they pounce upon unsuspecting people, delivering death through fangs dripping with poison. All you have to do is see Shelob in “The Return of the King” to realize how many people view spiders. Just their names conjure up fear: Black Widow, Brown Recluse, Daddy-Long-Legs.

What? Daddy-Long-Legs? Yes, thanks to the Internet and urban legends, the humble daddy-long-legs has been promoted to the most “poisonous spider” in the world. Before we explore this further, let’s get our terms straight. Spiders can be venomous, but rarely poisonous. Venom is injected, poison is ingested. If you want to know if a spider is poisonous, you have to eat it. Daddy-long-legs are in the order Opiliones and are also called harvestmen. They live many places outside, and are recognized by their long, thin legs, undivided body with segments on the rear half, and lack of silk. There is also a true spider called daddy-long-legs, family Pholcidae, which frequents basements (and therefore is sometimes called the cellar spider). The way the story goes, daddy-long-legs are the most venomous “spiders”, but their short fangs don’t penetrate human skin, so they can’t hurt us. Stop and think about that for a minute – how would scientists find that out? They would have to extract venom and inject it into people to see if they die. Who’s going to pay for or support that research? As it is, harvestmen are mostly scavengers and not venomous at all, and no Pholcid spiders have been shown to be harmful.

For both of the following spiders, severity of a bite depends on immune reaction to the venom, quantity injected and bite location, along with the age and condition of the victim. As with any spider bite, collect the spider and seek medical attention. Both spiders are shy and will only bite as a last resort or in the process of being crushed, and both may be found in association with human dwellings.

Black widows (Latrodectus mactans) are quite rare over most of our region, and entirely absent from much of it, especially northward. Only mature females are venomous, and they are somewhat variable in appearance. In spite of their name, females only rarely eat males after mating. Usually black with a red hourglass shape on the underside, they can also be brown and have indefinite markings. I once shared a park entrance booth with some in North Dakota – they lived under the floorboards and kept to themselves. Their webs appear unorganized, without a definite form. Venom is neurotoxic, and is fatal less than 1% of the time. Symptoms include pain (especially in the back and abdomen), nausea, fever, tremors, breathing difficulties and elevated blood pressure.

Brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) spiders are also called violin or fiddleback spiders, referring to the violin-shaped marking on the cephalothorax. They have six eyes in 3 pairs, as opposed to the 8 eyes that many spiders have. At home in the lower Mississippi valley and southern Great Plains, the range of the brown recluse extends into the southern half of Indiana and southwest corner of Ohio, but they are rare even there. Occurrences outside this range are likely the result spiders of being moved accidentally by human activity. Brown recluse venom is hemotoxic, causing destruction of tissue and blood at the bite site, though there may be some systemic symptoms also. Fatalities are extremely rare. These spiders eat mostly dead insects found while roaming – the unorganized web is a daytime retreat. In areas where they are native, brown recluses may be quite common, almost communal in their habits. They may be found under beds or running through houses in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, where schoolchildern frequently collect them while looking for insects. People in these areas live in close association with brown recluses without dire consequences. Most necrotic lesions diagnosed as brown recluse bites are something else entirely, especially in our region, but many medical professionals are unaware of the spider’s range. I have never seen a live brown recluse, and the only dead one I’ve seen was caught in far southern Indiana. Wolf and nursery web spiders are often mistaken for brown recluses, and while they are large and dramatic, they are not dangerous.

Most spiders are venomous, but most are also harmless to people. They’re not the Gary Larson Far Side spiders, weaving a web at the bottom of a playground sliding board and telling each other “If we pull this off, we’ll eat like kings!” Their benefits in insect control far outweigh their negative aspects. Learn to love them – remember, you’re never more than three feet away from a spider.

Web resources:

Black widow (at Ohio State – Go Buckeyes!)

Brown recluse (Ohio State strikes again!)

Spiders - Great site dedicated to correcting spider misinformation (take the Brown Recluse Spider Challenge, and look for the Monty Python quotes!)

Arachnology web


by Karie Divelbiss-Harding

Bats are flying mammals. Mammals are warm-blooded vertebrates that nourish their young with milk and are covered in hair or fur. These mammals are somewhat different than most because they can fly. Scientists have placed them in the order called Chiroptera which literally means hand-wing.

Bats are found everywhere in the world except in areas with extreme cold or extreme heat and dry conditions. The United States and Canada can claim 47 different species. The most common species in this part of Indiana are the big brown bat, little brown bat and the eastern red bat. We will occasionally get different species too.

An interesting fact about bats is that they have delayed fertilization. This means that they mate in the fall, but fertilization occurs in the spring after the bats finish hibernating. The length of their gestation period is about 45 days. When bats are born the mother, who usually hangs upside-down, will hang upright with their claws.*

Another fact about bats is their night flight. Bats use echolocation as a means to navigate through the night sky as well as their good eyesight. Echolocation is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "a physiological process for locating distant or invisible objects (as prey) by sound waves reflected back to the emitter (as a bat) from the objects.** Studies have been done to test the vision of bats. Some bats were blindfolded and their nightly flights seemed inconsistent with their course compared to night flights with use of their eyesight.

Although bats have had a bad reputation, they are actually very helpful creatures. The number one threat to bats are humans, who have most likely received misleading information about them. Bats feed on night flying insects. In a study by scientists at Indiana State University, they "estimated the number of insects eaten by one colony of about 300 bats in Clay County, Indiana, at about 6.3 million insects per year!"***

Even though bats are very helpful many people have killed bats based on folk tales, the stink of their guano, and their unwanted presence in living spaces. Is is not normal for bats to fly into your hair or suck your blood, they are not flying mice or blind. Bats are not known to carry lice, and it is a misconception that rabies is a serious problem.

So, what should be done if bats are a nuisance? Firstly, one would never kill bats. Also, please do not touch bats. If they are scared they will bite. Please try to find solutions to any problems bats are creating before misplacing the bats. There are many people who work to help these creatures. If you need to contact someone in Allen County please call the park at 449-3777 and we can give you information for the bat rehabilitator in the area.

*Bat Conservation
**Merriam Webster
***Whitaker, John O. Jr., Bats of Indiana, Indiana State University

Wilderness Women (formerly Girls in Boots) - Fire starters!

October 18, Saturday, 3:00-5:00 PM

Wilderness Women is a program designed for women and young ladies from about 12 years and up to become more self sufficient in the outdoors and develop an environmental consciousness all while gaining skills and knowledge.

This meeting will focus on the art of fire making. We’ll be taking a hike to find fire making materials, making fire starters and cooking a snack on the fire we build! Dress for the weather.

Program fee is $5 per person. Minimum 5 registered 5 days in advance – call 449-3777.

Home School Series

October 16 & November 20, Thursdays, 2-4 PM

Metea County Park is offering a home school science enrichment program for all school age students in three age groups. Participants in this project MUST pre-register by October 10 at 449-3777 or by emailing kharding@allencountyparks.org (preferred method). NO WALK-INS.

The fee for this program is $10.00 per student and $4.00 per parent, and includes both month’s sessions, all handouts and equipment. One parent/guardian per family is required to attend. Classes fill up quickly, so reserve your space soon! Each session begins promptly at 2:00 pm! Please bring proper footwear and outerwear for hiking. Topics subject to change without notice.

Session 1: October 16
Beginner (grade 1-3)
Bats! How many mosquitoes can they eat per night? Why are they important to the ecosystem? How did bat myths come to be? Why do they hang upside-down? Come to Metea to learn these facts and more!
Intermediate (grade 4-6)
Raptors! This group will be learning all about raptors! Soarin’ Hawk will be joining us as we learn about birds of prey, their importance in our ecosystem and what we can do to help protect these majestic creatures! Live raptors will be present.
Advanced (grade 7-12)
Native Mammals! We will learn about what makes an animal a mammal. We will explore mammal anatomy, take a hike in search of habitat, and introduce some ecological concepts and much more.

Session 2: November 20
Beginner (grade 1-3)
Owls! We will discover what they eat by dissecting owl pellets, learn about their importance in the environment and learn their calls. We will also be visited from a local screech owl and/or short-eared owl.
Intermediate (grade 4-6)
Bats! This group will be learning all about bats! How many mosquitoes can they eat per night? Why are they important to the ecosystem? How did bat myths come to be? Why do they hang upside-down? Come to Metea to learn these facts and more!
Advanced (grade 7-12)
Raptors! This group will be learning all about raptors! Soarin’ Hawk will be joining us as we learn about birds of prey, their importance in our ecosystem and what we can do to help protect these majestic creatures! Live raptors will be present.

Fall Foliage Hikes

October 11 and 18, Saturdays, 10:00 AM

Meet park naturalist Rachel Rossiter Smith at the Metea Park Nature Center for an enjoyable morning hike to savor the sounds, sights and smells of autumn.

Along the way we’ll talk about trees and how they can turn such beautiful colors. Dress for the weather.

Cost is $2 per person, kids 6 and under are free. Minimum 5 registered 5 days in advance – call 449-3777.

Preschool Morning Adventure – Shades of Fall

October 9, Thursday, 10:00 AM

Come to Metea County Park with your preschooler to learn about fall colors.

We will read a book, make a craft, have a snack and take a short hike.

$3.00 per child, $2.00 per adult partner (partner required). Please pre-register by October 6 by calling 449-3777 or emailing kharding@allencountyparks.org. Minimum of 5 pre-registered.