In 2004, The Nature Conservancy was the recipient of a remarkable bequest from the estate of Miss Sally Reahard. Through her estate, Miss Sally left $170 million to dozens of charities, mostly in Indiana. The Nature Conservancy in Indiana received $43 million to be used primarily for land acquisition. We looked at this transformational bequest not just as a gift to the Conservancy, but as a gift to all of Indiana that we would steward to help maximize its impact for Hoosiers.
We set an enormous goal of using the funds to help leverage the protection of 55,000 acres of land in Indiana by 2016 – our Bicentennial gift to Indiana. In 2004, the Conservancy had been working in Indiana 45 years and had helped to protect 45,000 Hoosier acres. Our goal was to more than double that effort in the next 12 years to reach 100,000 acres by 2016. Miss Sally’s bequest would pay for roughly one-third of that goal.
We're pleased to report we have achieved our ambitious goal! Here are just some of the natural areas in Indiana that are part of our 100,000 protected acres.
Kankakee Sands in Newton County
Kankakee Sands, the largest native grassland in Indiana, is a paradise for birders and wildflower enthusiasts. The site hosts an amazing array of birds, wildflowers, plants and animals that fills the prairie with song and sights to behold. In 2016, we brought a small herd of bison to Newton County to help with our prairie restoration. Kankakee Sands is truly a tourist destination.
Big Walnut in Putnam County
Located just 45 minutes west of Indianapolis, Big Walnut Preserve is a dazzling scenic area situated among the rolling hills and steep ravines of Big Walnut Creek Valley. Since 1985, the preserve has been co-managed by the Conservancy and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Nature Preserves (DNP). This successful partnership has protected more than 3,200 acres and has ensured the long-term viability of this biologically important natural area. The Tall Timbers Trail is a 1.9-mile hike through some of the Big Walnut System’s most impressive woodlands.
Goose Pond in Greene County
This State Fish and Wildlife Area has grown to become one of the largest and most successful wetland restoration projects in the United States. This huge expanse of wetlands includes over 30 miles of earthen dikes, 1,400 acres of prairie, and nearly 5,000 acres of shallow water. Today, the area is becoming a significant destination for Midwestern birders and hunters. The Nature Conservancy is proud to have contributed $1,000,000 toward this project.
Douglas Woods in DeKalb and Steuben Counties
Containing one of the last remaining old-growth forest stands in northeast Indiana, this preserve boasts almost 400 acres of old growth woods with the balance in younger forest and wetlands. The Nature Conservancy’s work began at Douglas Woods in order to protect the species-rich Fish Creek, which meanders for over six miles through the preserve. The core block of forest at Douglas Woods benefits interior forest nesting songbirds, as well as providing habitat to sustain populations of Blanding’s turtle and blue-spotted salamander.
Sugar Creek in west-central Indiana
The Sugar Creek Conservation Area, which is a key project of the Healthy Rivers Initiative, is primarily forested with rugged terrain and is rich in biological diversity. Habitats found in this area include upland forests, ravine forests, cliffs, bottomland forests, flatwoods, seeps and springs. Wildlife species commonly found include deer, turkey and migratory birds. The Nature Conservancy has committed more than $2,000,000 to this project.
Ivanhoe Dune and Swale in Lake County
Rapid industrial and residential development of the lakeshore destroyed all but tiny fragments of the “dune and swale” landscape. Leveraging Indiana Heritage Trust funds, we’ve been able to acquire biologically rich acreage in a working class neighborhood of Gary. Over the years, we’ve transformed Ivanhoe into a rich patchwork of upland savanna, prairie, forest, and wetland, and we are currently looking at how we can make these areas more accessible to the public to better serve urban populations.
Cedar Bluffs in Monroe County
Featuring a 75-foot high limestone bluff and gnarled red cedars clinging to cliffs, Cedar Bluffs provides its many visitors with a stunning display of species adaptation and survival in a harsh environment. At its eastern end, the bluff narrows and drops off into a rock-walled valley cut by a small tributary stream of Clear Creek. This canyon protects a lavish spring wildflower display and exhibits remarkable rock formations.
Hitz-Rhodehamel Woods in Brown County
In April, spring wildflowers dot these ravines of this beautiful preserve, and warblers can be spotted during their migration. The fall colors of this Brown County forest make a mid-October hike ideal. The chestnut oak woods on the dry slopes are in excellent condition, with an open understory featuring diverse mosses and lichens. A 2.6-mile long interpretive loop trail meanders through the ridges and valleys of this world-class preserve.
Knobstone Trail in Clark, Scott and Washington Counties
The rugged terrain of this 58-mile backcountry hiking trail is often compared to the Appalachian Trail. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources manages the Knobstone Trail in Clark, Scott, and Washington counties in southern Indiana. It is Indiana's longest footpath, passing through Clark State Forest, Elk Creek Public Fishing Area, and Jackson-Washington State Forest. These state resource properties contain nearly 40,000 acres of rugged, forested land.
Pine Hills in Montgomery County
The Nature Conservancy’s first acquisition and Indiana's first dedicated nature preserve, Pine Hills is a remarkable example of the natural beauty our state has to offer. Hogback ridges with steep dropoffs, craggy hills, deep gorges and extensive sandstone bluffs are covered with stands of evergreens and hardwood trees. It is truly an outstanding natural area, and well-deserving of the praises so many Hoosiers have bestowed upon it.
Eagle Marsh in Allen County
Owned and managed by the Little River Wetlands Project, Eagle Marsh is located on the southwest border of Fort Wayne. More than 10 miles of trails allow hikers to access the preserve's varied habitats of shallow-water wetland, sedge meadow, prairie, mature forest and young trees. With adjacent Fox Island County Park and other privately owned natural land, Eagle Marsh creates almost two square miles of habitat for birds and other wildlife. Eagle Marsh’s wetlands prevent flooding in nearby areas and downstream, because they hold rainwater and snowmelt that would otherwise end up in nearby fields, roads, basements and yards.
Houghton Lake in Marshall County
How often do you get the chance to protect an intact natural lake in Indiana? One of the state's last remaining undeveloped lakes and fringing wetlands will forever remain a wild, natural place for the future. Houghton Lake was an opportunity of a lifetime, and one that the Conservancy could not resist. Houghton Lake in Marshall County is a wonderful example of a highly alkaline natural lake. It lies at the bottom of a broad valley that likely once carried off massive quantities of glacial meltwater.