Harrison County Glades--Then and Now

The following was written by Cassie Hauswald, Program Assistant for the Blue River Project in southern Indiana.

When I began working for the Conservancy in 2000 I was quickly introduced to limestone glades; first and foremost because limestone glades are a priority for protection in southern Indiana, but also because my then-new supervisor, Allen Pursell, who is a forester was greatly attracted to them. It was beyond my naïve mind what a glade was much less why someone who grows trees would be interested in such a grassy “field."

Actually, glades are small, natural openings in the forest that are bereft of trees. The bedrock of glades in Harrison County is limestone and it busts through the surface here and there giving a glimpse as to why these areas have never seen a plow. Glades face solar south and take the brunt of maximum sun exposure. The solar south aspect and exposed bedrock keep large trees from taking root in favor of a prairie-like plant community. Instead native grasses, coneflowers and fragrant mint mingle in the summer sun.

Allen sees these ‘diamonds-in-the-rough’ precisely because he is a forester and understands forest ecology. The soils, topography and amount of sunlight tell a forester what trees will grow where and glades are best at growing cedar when they aren’t kept clear by fire. In the 1980’s the Indiana Department of Natural Resources inventoried the Harrison County Glades along with many other natural areas. They used aerial photography and land-truthing to determine where glades were or once were by looking for areas overgrown with cedar. Without fire a glade disappears into a thicket of cedar. Both lighting strikes and Native American set the landscape ablaze from time to time, keeping the glades in a grassy state.

Cedars scream harsh conditions to a forester and so Allen understands that to conserve glades we must be able to manage them. Management is the domain of our preserve stewards and includes using fire as a restoration tool, manually removing cedars to open up the ground to sunlight and maintaining an oak-hickory forest surrounding the glade to offer the correct habitat conditions. Some of the most interesting species on the glades, orchids in particular, occur in the space between open, sunny glade and dense, dark forest.

Since opening the Blue River office in 1994 Allen has been chipping away at land protection in the Harrison County Glades. This is a slow process, but one that has, over time, secured 14 of the 20 known limestone glades in southeastern Harrison County. Last summer, we protected an additional 55 acres that now ensures a corridor of forested land from the Rabbit Hash Glade to Teeple Glade. I say “we” because Allen has created a disciple that now gets the pleasure of protecting these small, but rich sites too.

Glades are glorious in the summer, but the abundance of grasses and flowers makes them a refuge for many animals year-round. I can’t step foot in Teeple Glade in the spring without hearing the ‘weety-weety-weety-o’ call of hooded warblers nor can I visit Klinstiver Glade without being wowed at the butterflies flitting over the Mosquito Creek valley. The first time I saw a glade, I was dubious, but as I’ve learned that an intact plant community represents an intact ecosystem I see the inspiration for taking on the challenge of protecting Harrison County’s glades as the pearls in a sea of trees.