By the people and for the people is how the Porter County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) came to be. Hundreds of Porter County landowners successfully petitioned the State of Indiana for its creation and in 1952 the SWCD was established as a sub-division of state government. From the start, the SWCD office was co-located with the federal USDA offices of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Services Agency in order to provide landowners with a one stop shop experience. With two Porter County Government employees and a board of five invested local citizens one could say the SWCD is that rare example of a successful partnership of multiple entities.
Early on, the SWCD worked almost exclusively with farmers seeking assistance with drainage issues, pasture improvement and wildlife ponds. Still today, a majority of time is dedicated to agricultural concerns with a focus on conservation practices such as cover crops, no-till and filter strips. Guided by an active board comprised of Mike Kreiger, Keith Gustafson, Brent Jarnecke, Greg Birky and Brad Hunter, the SWCD is always seeking ways to put conservation on the land.
The cover crop cost share program, established in 2013, is one way the SWCD encourages farmers to plant cover crops by offering assistance with the cost of seed. Although prices continue to increase the SWCD still offers landowners tree seedlings for windbreaks and wildlife habitat for the same $20 for a bundle of ten trees as it did more than 10 years ago.
With urban growth hastening, the SWCD began offering free elementary classroom science programs with special emphasis on Porter County’s natural resources in 2001. These free programs have grown to serving an average of 9,000 children each year. The outdoor hikes around the schools have been the most popular of the programs, as the children discover natural treasures, such as leaves and seeds, in their own school yards.
A desire to learn more about surface water quality prompted the creation of a water quality monitoring program in 2016 in the East Branch of the Little Calumet River Watershed. The SWCD was fortunate to partner with the Indiana Dunes National Park which provided lab services and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture which lent technical support. In 2021, Shirley Heinze Land Trust assumed monitoring responsibilities in the East Branch while the SWCD expanded monitoring to the Kankakee Watershed.
Most recently the SWCD returned to its roots and early field days and offered four events in the summer of 2022. Topics included pond management, backyard butterflies, erosion control assistance and cover crops. Many partners including Shirley Heinze Land Trust helped make these programs possible. Although the future will bring change to the SWCD, it will always be centered on the people of Porter County.
We welcome you to visit our website at www.portercountyswcd.com or our Facebook Page!
-Michelle Benson, District Administrator & Educator for the SWCD