Gibson Woods Nature Preserve is a state-dedicated nature preserve located in Hammond, Indiana. It is one of the largest remnants in the Great Lakes region of the globally rare dune-and-swale topography. Gibson Woods is now owned and managed by the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department.
The 131-acre park was initially acquired by the Nature Conservancy in 1980. Gibson Woods became a county park with the help of federal revenue-sharing funds and after a series of transactions involving the Penn Central Railroad, the Nature Conservancy and the Lake County Parks Department. In 1981, the park came to be known as a state nature preserve.
The preserve features a nature/awareness center, gift shop, indoor restrooms, hiking trails, and an interpretive staff. It consists of rare species of plants and animals, a narrow, long strip of wooded sand dunes and small wetlands (swales).
This area was once part of an extensive sand dune ecosystem that was carved out by the water and wind along with glaciation on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. This is the type of landscape that once dominated the vast majority of the Calumet Region, and is one of the last remaining examples of the topography.
In this preserve, there are areas of black oak savanna, mesic sand prairie dominated by big bluestem, wet mesic sand prairie with blue joint grass, buttonbush swamp, cattail marsh, and a pin oak-black willow forest.
The wetlands consist of aquatic plants and shallow water. Some of the rare plants are the speckled alder, paper birch, golden sedge, large yellow lady slipper, tubercled orchid, ragged fringed orchid, twayblade, and dune goldenrod.
The rare fauna include Franklin's ground squirrel, plains pocket gopher, Blanding's turtle, red-shouldered hawk, American bittern, blue winged teal, and the Karner blue butterfly. The nature center also maintains one of the best bird feeding operations.
Programs at the park include topics focused on its ecological and historical development. The Environmental Awareness Center, opened in 1984, features interesting exhibits such as an 8,000-year-old Mastodon skeleton found in Lake County, live reptiles and amphibians, and educational displays. There are three developed trails and an interpretive center at Gibson Woods.
Interpretive tours include an indoor program and several miles of trails into the dune and swale prairie. In this reserve, visitors get a rare chance to view a prime example of the topographic features that characterized many thousands of acres in Northwest Indiana four millennia ago.