Focus Of Lakes Fest Is Education, With Some Fun Thrown In

Jed Harvey, research technician with Lilly Lakes & Streams, explains the importance of the Center Lake wetlands on Center Lake during an eco tour Saturday during the Northern Indiana Lakes Festival. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union

There were fun things for kids to do and blues music to listen to Saturday at Central Park during the Northern Indiana Lakes Festival, but a main focus of the event was educating the public about water.

Warsaw Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Larry Plummer said it was “Education of our lakes and streams.” Since the Parks Department merged its annual blues concert with The Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams’ Northern Indiana Lakes Festival, Plummer said the Center provides the educational part of it and the parks provides the entertainment aspect.

Four blues bands performed throughout the day, concluding with Jake Kershaw at the end of the evening.

The Lilly Center Director Dr. Nate Bosch said, “All of our education from the Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams is focused on what we call water literacy. We want to grow up the next generation of residents here in Warsaw, but really all throughout the county, all throughout the state of Indiana, in fact, to be water literate to understand how to properly take care of our lakes and streams.”

Just like recycling is a normal habitat for many, he said they’d like to see it be “normal” for people to be water literate and think about their impact of their actions on a downstream water body and then make better choices on their property, property they manage or the property where their business is located “to help protect those water resources better.”

Saturday was the 12th year for the Lakes Festival after the last two years were precautionary skipped because of Covid. The Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams at Grace College has always partnered with the city of Warsaw to put on the festival.

Bosch said, “But over the couple years of Covid, we took the opportunity to have a lot of conversations with the mayor, with the superintendent of the parks to really retool, optimize, think through how do we want this partnership to work going forward. And so I think we’ve settled in on a real winning combination now where the city is looking at more of the aspects of entertainment and logistics, the operations of the festival, and the Lilly Center then can focus on our sweet spot, which is the education and how do we take better care of the lakes.”

With both partners working in their area of strength, Bosch said, “I think we’re going to see, while we had a little dropoff the last couple of years here with COVID, I think with this resurgence we’re just going to pick it up and we’re going to move forward and it’s going to grow and we’re going to have a bigger and bigger impact.”

The Lilly Center – which is celebrating its 15th anniversary – had four different education booths set up during the festival.

“Our mission is making our lakes and streams here in Kosciusko County clean, healthy, safe and beautiful. That’s been our mission for as long as I can remember, and each one of our booths focuses on a different part of that mission,” Bosch said.

One booth focused on clean, another one on healthy, one on safety and the fourth focused on beautiful. Activities at each booth fit its mission theme.

“In addition to the education booths, we are also running eco tours out on Center Lake in partnership with their lake association and some of the residents that live around the lake,” Bosch said. “So, our research folks that are on our team at the Lilly Center are narrating those tours around the lake, talking about some of our research on the lake, some of the things that the lake association has done to improve the lake over the last several years.”

Lilly Center also will be offering eco tours this week on four Kosciusko County lakes.

Chapman Lake is Monday night, Lake Wawasee is Tuesday night, Winona Lake is Thursday night and Tippecanoe Lake is Friday night. Each of the tours is from 7 to 9 p.m.

“Everybody comes on their own boat and they tune in to a radio station that me, as the narrator, am broadcasting from. So they can be safely on their boat, having their own food and drinks, friends and family, whatever they want on their boat, but they can tune in,” Bosch explained. “I’ve given everybody on those eco tours a cell phone number that they can then text questions during the eco tour then we can real-time answer those questions, or sometimes I’ll ask questions and people will text back in their answers.”

This year, because it’s the Lilly Center’s 15th anniversary, there’s a historian from each of the particular lakes that will be a part of the eco tours.

“I think that’s going to add another flavor of what did this lake used to be like, who were some of the residents around the lake, how did they used to interact with the lake, what’s changed. And when we merge that in with some of the research data that we’re collecting, it can tell a pretty interesting story,” Bosch said.

Many of the partners that the Lilly Center works closely with had booths at Saturday’s festival, including Acres Land Trust, KC Recycling Depot, Soil & Water Conservation District and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“With Acres Land Trust, looking at land stewardship, how do we properly take care of the land. They’ll put land into conservation trusts or own the land themselves to protect it from potentially harmful uses in the future, which could negatively impact lakes and streams,” Bosch said. “KC Recycling Depot has a lot of different messages, talking about different toxic substances … how do we keep those things out of our lakes.”

He said the Soil & Water Conservation District works a lot with agricultural producers in the watershed/drainage areas around the lakes to implement better practices on their acres in order to have less nutrients and sediments run off into the lakes and streams.

The Indiana DNR is tasked with enforcing environmental rules that the state has, “so that goes a long ways as well to protect our water resources in the state,” he said.

From year one of the Lakes Festival, Bosch said the underlying goal always has been “education, changing behavior to again raise up that water literate generation of folks in our community. … But we always do it under the allure of the carnival atmosphere. You’ve got the inflatables, the spider jump, you’ve got the climbing wall, you’ve got the blues concerts …. we’ve had Lake City Skiers and we’ve got the Aqua Glide out there. So all of those things are meant to draw people in, but the purpose behind it is, ‘Let’s take better care of our lakes.”