Hoosiers understand the special qualities within the Brown County Hills. As the most popular outdoor recreation destination in Indiana, more than 1 million people a year visit the area’s steep, glacier-carved lands and forests to hike, camp, canoe, fish, hunt, and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the Brown County Hills.
However, this area is significant not only for its aesthetical characteristics. It is the largest and most heavily forested land remaining in Indiana, allowing the forests to be a relatively intact, functioning ecosystem critical for many plants and animals.
The Nature Conservancy’s Brown County Hills Project is a community-based program working across the landscape and with many partners to help ensure the viability and health of the forests while maintaining the quality of life for residents and visitors for generations to come.
The Brown County Hills region of south-central Indiana includes more than 350,000 acres in portions of seven counties: Bartholomew; Brown; Jackson; Johnson; Lawrence; Monroe and Morgan (see map).
Species and Natural Communities
Large, protected landscapes can support the animals and plants needed to create a healthy ecosystem. It’s why the Conservancy calls the Brown County Hills a landscape-scale project. We work to increase the amount of conserved land, so that plants and animals can survive in sufficient numbers to prevent them from becoming rare or threatened.
History of the Brown County Hills
Prior to European settlement, Indiana was roughly 80% forested. Attempts to clear the land for agricultural production caused the forested land to decline to less than 10% of the state. Some of the lands in Brown County Hills were cleared during this settlement period. However, the steep slopes and poor soil made farming in this area unsuccessful and saved this much of the forest from becoming permanent farmland.
Failed attempts at farming in the late 1800s left the cleared land abandoned, and no one – not even at $2 per acre – wanted to buy the land. In the early 1900s, federal and state agencies stepped in by purchasing the land for public use, primarily hunting and recreation. Some of the land was reforested by the government, but most of the land naturally succeeded into the forests we see today. This area is now part of the largest contiguous block of forestland in Indiana.
Approximately one-half of the forested lands are in public ownership mainly through the Hoosier National Forest, Yellowwood State Forest, Morgan-Monroe State Forest, Brown County State Park and Lake Monroe. The other half belongs to private landowners. The long-term health of this region depends on the protection of the private lands and careful management of the public lands.
In 2002, the Conservancy formally established the project with a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Since then, the Brown County Hills Project has:
- permanently protected ~5,000 acres through land acquisition and partnerships with Hoosier National Forest, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and Sycamore Land Trust;
- reforested more than 150 acres of bottomland hardwood forest;
- educated more than 2,500 people through events and educational programs;
- met with more than 100 private landowners who, in total, own over 11,000 acres, and
- reintroduced controlled burning at the Hitz-Rhodehamel Woods preserve.
The Brown County Hills project area provides the Conservancy with a unique opportunity to protect a forest that has changed little over recent years. Strategies used in the Brown County Hills forests include land protection, management, research, and education.
Volunteer Opportunities - Interested in volunteering at the Brown County Hills Project Office in Nashville? There are several opportunities where you can put your skills and time to good use.
PO BOX 1092
4523 TC Steele Road
Nashville IN 47448