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Park Visitors Chronolog Ecosystems To Help Monitor Change

By: Laura Brennan, Biologist with the National Park Service
10 July 2020

Each year three million people visit Indiana Dunes State and National Parks. At the same time, park staff are actively managing and restoring hundreds of acres of wetlands, oak savannas, and other fragile ecosystems. The challenge is how to engage our large visitor base with this important restoration work in a meaningful way. With a new web-based system called Chronolog, visitors have the opportunity to be a community scientist.

For example, Indiana Dunes National Park is actively working to restore Cowles Bog, a National Natural Landmark. Over time, the wetland has become invaded by non-native grasses like cattail and phragmites, which the park has been working to eliminate since 2005 when few native plants could be found. These invasive plant species don’t just crowd out native plants, they also drive out birds, insects, and other animals that call this rare ecosystem home. Following the removal of these non-native aggressive plants, park staff install over 40,000 native plants per year to provide better habitat for local wildlife and improve the vegetation community.

The staff at Indiana Dunes National Park know that this will be a long and painstaking process, but the results are already showing positive impacts to flora and fauna alike. With projects that take years to complete, it’s hard to show how much has changed. Now, visitors can help in monitoring this and other restoration efforts.

Indiana Dunes National Park is partnering with Chronolog, an environmental monitoring project powered by citizen scientists, to document the restoration project. There are 5 Chronolog photo stations throughout the park. At each of these stations, visitors are encouraged to take a photo and email it to Chronolog so that it can be added to a long-term time lapse of the changing ecosystem. By participating in the project, visitors will automatically receive a reply email with the time lapse video, along with an explanation of what is being monitored.

The time-lapse reveals the dynamic change of these habitats in a new interactive way. See the evolution of Cowles Bog on for yourself.

It is estimated that the full restoration of this large ecosystem will require another 5- 10 years. The crowdsourced time lapse will help land stewards measure the effectiveness of their conservation effort and the health of the ecosystem. It will also reveal the work being done in a new digital way to visitors who will get to learn and be a witness to the environmental change happening before them.