Michael Lichkay of Rolling Prairie doesn’t like mosquitoes, but he admits, “I don’t hate them, either.”
He explains: “They only take blood to help them breed.”
He sees something beyond the nuisance.
If you’re weary of woodpeckers whacking away on trees or your siding, he’s quick to point out that they primarily look for dead wood: “They’re chipping away wood so they can find bugs.”
And he notes that they have long tongues they stick out from their beaks to grab insects and worms.
His boss at a local hospital, where he works an unpaid internship doing odd jobs, calls him a “Living Wiki.”
Video: Joe on the GoPro: Climbing fall trees at Rum Village
But Lichkay just loves animals and ecosystems. He loves knowing how they need each other. And his mother, Charlotte Lichkay, says, he had the “gumption” to achieve Eagle Scout, capping it off with a project where he oversaw the making of 30 all-purpose birdhouses for Bourissa Hills Park in New Carlisle. The blue and green birdhouses, hung from park trees this spring along wood-chipped trails in the woods, quickly started to attract wrens, Nancy Taplin, the town’s parks board president, says.
“I just did what they told me to do,” the 20-year-old with autism says humbly, though his troop leader, Rick Lee, says Michael is the first scout with a disability to reach Eagle since Lee started the New Carlisle-based Troop 664 in 2001.
Leaders can make accommodations to help a scout with special needs to gain Eagle, which is the highest scout rank and one that only 4% of all scouts nationally have reached. No accommodations here, Lee says. Michael proved that he had his own drive and curiosity to amass 48 merit badges and several awards.
Math and reading are challenges for him. His mom says he learns by listening (and watching nature shows on TV). But the organization requires a Scout to show leadership to supervise, as Michael did for about 20 adults and scouts who did the labor of turning donated lumber into birdhouses, using a local man’s carpentry workshop and tools.
Michael also has joined fellow scouts for winter survival camps, whitewater rafting on the New River, and long hikes and trips, including a 10-day venture to South Dakota where, at a paleontology site, he proudly found a “spitter tooth” from a triceratops. As Michael explains, the creature would spit out the tooth after it was worn down by eating green vegetation.
Are you catching a drift here — how one person’s learning rubs off on another?
He owns a bird book and has taught Lee a few things about birds — what they eat, their habitat and the different kinds of swallows.
Michael likes the red color of a cardinal and the “great memory” of a blue jay, which he says is “like a squirrel.” True enough, both squirrels and blue jays hide tree nuts (and worms and insects) in the ground. Blue jays belong to the corvidae family, which includes more of his favorites, the also-clever crows and ravens, which he says have a “mystical vibe.”
“Some animals have abilities that us humans wish to have,” he says. “For example, the ability to fly. And also to be very strong and lift things 10 times our weight.”
Like an ant. Or, he also points out, one of the world’s strongest creatures for its size: the dung beetle.
Michael, a 2019 graduate of LaPorte High School, cares for a bearded dragon and dreams of owning a pet shop named after the reptile, Sam.
He’s fulfilled Lee’s hope for every Scout trip and project: “To make memories. … Things you can pass down to your families.”
Bourissa Hills Park
• Where: Coming from South Bend on U.S. 20, drive through downtown New Carlisle and turn left (south) on College Street at Memorial Park. Follow it through a right and a left turn to the end. The park is next to a football field.
• What: Bourissa Hills is primarily a destination for folks in the New Carlisle area, with a 9-hole disc golf course along an open grassy area, a popular hill for sledding and a small patch of woods with walking trails. For leaf peepers, trees range from sumac to Kentucky coffee, plus silver maple, sugar maple, oak and cherry, parks board President Nancy Taplin says. There’s also a handsome wooden foot bridge that former parks director Roger Grove built just a few months before he died in 2019. Prior to that job, Grove had spent 18 years on staff at St. Joseph County Parks, where he’d built a Spicer Lake boardwalk and other structures. Beau Brasseur, also from Boy Scout Troop 664, cleaned up trails and added wood chips last year for his Eagle Scout project. There are a few disconnected remnants of the mountain bike trail that Russ Gelow and his dad had built in 2013, no longer rideable for the lack of time to maintain them. Dogs aren’t allowed in the park.
• Invasive species: The state of Michigan’s Invasive Species Program will host a free monthly webinar to look at efforts to prevent the destructive influx and spread of invasive plants, insects, animals and diseases. Each hour-long segment of NotMISpecies will hear from people on the front lines of this work and include a Q&A session. The series starts at 9 a.m. Thursday with a look at science and technology used to respond to grass carp in Lake Erie. On Nov. 17, the focus is on red swamp crayfish. The webinar then returns Jan. 22 to look at an insect that infests Eastern hemlock trees. Each webinar will be live, with recordings available for one week afterward. Learn more and register in a link in this column online.
• Enchanted Forest: Trail guides will lead families on a hike to meet staff and volunteers dressed as native Indiana animals to learn about the critters between 7 and 8:30 p.m. Friday at Goshen College’s Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, east of Goshen in Albion, Ind. Pre-registration, at $3.50 per person ages 3 and older, is required at 260-799-5869. It could be canceled if there are thunderstorms.
• Bertrand hike: A park naturalist will lead the Harbor Country Hikers on a 2-hour hike at 10 a.m. Saturday at Madeline Bertrand County Park, 3038 Adams Road, Niles. The group requires face masks for all hikers.
• Crane count: Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area in Medaryville, Ind., has begun this fall’s weekly count of sandhill cranes, found in a link in this column online. So far, the numbers are a tad lower than last year, but it’s just ramping up. The count typically grows through November, when it hits its peak, though last year hit a high of 20,324 on Dec. 3. Snow doesn’t necessarily keep the elegant birds away, because they can find open water at a nearby power-generating station. You can easily view the cranes during this fall migration, with the greatest populations near sunrise and sunset, in the Goose Pasture Viewing Area. From U.S. 421, south of U.S. 30, go west on County Road 143.
• Indiana 933 trail: In case you haven’t noticed, the new trail along Indiana 933 linking the East Bank Trail and the LaSalle Trail is now finished. It’s not scenic, but it’s a useful and safe connector between trails and college campuses. Please be cautious around the road and access drive crossings.
• Howard Park ice: South Bend Venues Parks & Arts hopes to open the Howard Park ice trail and pond as early as Nov. 14, but it will need freezing temperatures and a lack of precipitation to create the ice, as The Tribune reported last week. For COVID-19 protocols, you’ll be strongly encouraged to order and pre-pay online. A staff member will even be outside to help you with that. Park officials hope that will reduce the number of people lingering indoors, where capacity will be capped at 50%. But cash and credit card options will still be available for walk-ups, Director of Recreation Jonathan Jones says. Masks will be a must indoors. More heating elements will be posted outside. Hours will expand on Fridays to noon to 10 p.m. There’s a 10% discount on season passes through Friday. Learn more or make purchases at visithowardpark.com.