Gibson Woods Nature Preserve
Directions to Gibson Woods Nature Preserve
Exit I-80/94 north on Cline Avenue in Hammond to 169th Street. Travel west to Parrish Avenue, then north to Gibson Woods.
Gibson Woods Nature Preserve park hours
- Park gates are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March through October
- Park gates are open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. November through February
- The Environmental Awareness Center is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. year round
- Both the EAC and the park gates are closed on Mondays and Holidays
- NOTE: The park and the EAC will be closed from December 21st - January 2nd
- GPS: 41.599352,-87.45186
Welcome to Gibson Woods Nature Preserve
Tucked away in the heart of the industrial region of northwest Indiana is an island of nature with some very unusual features. This 131-acre parcel of virtually "undisturbed" land is known as Gibson Woods Nature Preserve... a Lake County Park.
Gibson Woods is one of the last sizeable remnant of high quality dune and swale topography remaining in the Midwest. Because of the widespread urbanization and industrialization in Northwest Indiana, this type of topography and its associated natural communities have been almost entirely eliminated. The rare environment, surrounded by urban development, was preserved because it was part of railroad property of the Gibson Yards.
The dune and swale features of the preserve were produced after the last glacier created ancient Lake Chicago, the forerunner of Lake Michigan. The parallel sand ridges still found in Gibson Woods today represent the effect of Lake Chicago as it retreated thousands of years ago.
Native Americans were the first visitors to the Gibson Woods area. Although no tribes resided permanently in the preserve evidence of several Woodland Indian seasonal campsites have been found. The most recent native inhabitants were the Potawatomi, who used the area as a hunting ground until their removal in 1830.
The Gibson Woods area was almost uninhabited by European settlers until the Michigan Central Railroad opened up the area by building the first railroad in Lake County in 1852. Gibson Woods was named for the Gibson station of the railroad, formerly located just west of the preserve. The area remained railroad property until the Nature Conservancy purchased it in 1980. The Lake County Parks and Recreation Department then purchased this tract from the Nature Conservancy and it was dedicated by the state of Indiana as a Nature Preserve on November 8, 1981.
Gibson Woods' topography is an exceptionally well-preserved example of the landscape as it appeared in Northwest Indiana 4,000 year ago. Although man has had some impact on the preserve throughout its history, Gibson Woods has remained largely as it was. It is this lack of disturbance that allows the preserve to have such a variety of natural communities.
Black oak savanna dominates the dune ridged. The sandy soil supports tallgrass prairie composed of native wildflowers and grasses such as Big and Little Bluestem, Prairie Cordgrass, Indian Grass, Fringed Gentians, Yellow Coneflower, Nodding Lady's Tresses and a host of others. More than 300 species of plants have been identified in the preserve, several of which are considered threatened or endangered.
Because of its natural diversity, Gibson Woods Nature Preserve provides differing habitats which offer feeding and nesting cover for many animals. More that 160 species of birds have been recorded here. Certain species of animals inhabiting the preserve such as Blanding's Turtle and Franklin's Ground Squirrel are endangered or considered rare in Indiana. The Karner Blue Butterfly, a federally endangered species, is but one noteworthy example of the importance of the habitat preserved here.
By preserving this area, the people of Lake County Indiana have created a living museum for rare flora and fauna. By protecting this tract of land we are preserving an important link with the past. An aid in that protection is prescribed burning, which is an accepted and practical way to restore and maintain the prairie. Before European settlers came to the area, fire was a natural occurrence. Lightning strikes would burn the prairie. Now, unburned prairies leave dead and decaying vegetation which stifles growth of prairie plants and deprives them of space and light. Since prairies have an abundance of plants, insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles, many found only in prairies, it is to our advantage to keep the remaining prairie areas we have in Northwest Indiana.
Self-guided trails allow the public to passively use the nature preserve. The Gibson Woods Environmental Awareness Center, built in 1984 with a grant from the Land and Conservation Fund, houses exhibits that interpret displays such as the 6,000 year old Mastodon bones found right here in Lake County, live reptiles and amphibians, and educational displays. The Outdoor Education staff offers a variety of interpretive tours, programs, and lectures to the public throughout the year. Many local school children visit the preserve as part of their outdoor education curriculum. Interpretive tours include an indoor program and a hike into the dune and swale prairie. Programs are designed to fit the age and need of the school or group. Nature programs like bird and wildflower walks are held throughout the year, while groups like 4-H, and Dunes/Calumet Audubon Society utilize the facility for meetings. Wild Ones Natural Landscapers is directly sponsored by the Lake County Parks Department and acts in a volunteer capacity to assist in seed collection, cleaning, growing, and replanting.
The trails are open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. March through October and from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. November through February. The Environmental Awareness Center is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The park and Center are closed on Mondays and holidays. For information about Gibson Woods call 219-844-3188 or email Lake County Parks.
While owned and operated by the Lake County Parks, Gibson Woods Nature Preserve is a state dedicated preserve due to its rare plants and animals, some listed as endangered.
Other Great Features of Gibson Woods
- Barrier free toilet
- Environmental awareness center
- Gift shop
- Group tours
- Hiking trails
- Interpretive staff
- School group tours
- Toilets (flush)
- Wildlife viewing area