After a one year hiatus, members of the Knox County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area are gearing up for the return of Nature Days, this year focusing the program on Knox County natives — both native plants and the area’s former indigenous population.
“This would have been our fifth annual Nature Days,” said Will Drews, the county’s natural resource specialist. “With COVID last year we postponed it but then decided to cancel it altogether.”
The revived event will feature keynote speaker, Stephen Ball, an archaeologist by training and the cultural resources specialist for Indiana’s Natural Resources Conservation Service office.
Drews said Ball will present information about the indigenous people and mounds of the lower Wabash Valley before the group takes a field tour of Sugar Loaf Mound, located at 2425 Wabash Ave.
The mound itself is a natural land formation but was used by Woodland Era indigenous groups as a burial site.
“One of (Ball’s) areas of specialty is the indigenous people of this area from the years 1,000-1,400 AD,” said Drews. “Those are the folks who made the mounds.”
Unfortunately, Drews says, much of the mound has become overrun with invasive species, something the local CISMA group has been working to eradicate.
“But we can try to imagine what it would have looked like back then,” he said of the upcoming site tour.
Because of the county’s prominent burial mound, and a history teeming with Native American influence, Drews felt local residents would enjoy a program dedicated to the area’s earliest inhabitants, as well as their uses of native plants.
Drews himself will speak to the medicinal qualities of some native vegetation and highlight a variety of edible plants that have long been part of the area’s landscape.
“We get a lot of questions, particularly when we’re at historic-type events, about what some of these plants were used for in the past — about which ones are edible and which are medicinal,” said Drews.
The sheer volume of questions led Drews to research the ways in which this area’s earliest inhabitants utilized plant life.
“One of the really interesting plants is Butterfly Weed, which we generally sell for its aesthetic appeal and for attracting butterflies,” Drews said, before explaining that it was long used by Native Americans and early settlers in a variety of tonics.
Often, indigenous people chewed the roots of Butterfly Weed to fight off pleurisy and other pulmonary issues.
“They used it to make tonics for all kinds of ailments,” said Drews.
The event is sponsored both by the CISMA as well as the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Drews said the event is free to those who are interested in learning, but reservations are requested as there is a catered, free lunch at noon.
Nature Day is family-friendly as well, he said, and volunteers will be on hand with activities for youngsters during the talks.
There will also be a native plant sale, vendors and door prizes.
Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. at the St. Francis Xavier Parish Center, located at 106 S. Third St.
To register, visit the Knox County CISMA Facebook page, or contact Drews at 812-882-8210 ext. 3408.