This year marks the 50th anniversary of Indiana's Nature Preserves Act that protects more than 50,000 acres of Hoosier natural areas in 70 of the state's 92 counties.
It was the work of the 12 founders and members of Allen County Reserves, an all-volunteer organization created seven years earlier, that got the legislation passed into law in March 1967.
The legislation created the Division of Nature Preserves of the Department of Natural Resources, which partners with nonprofits and other agencies to save natural areas in their communities and allows any land owner to dedicate, or permanently protect, land with the state.
“What's been interesting to me,” says Jason Kissel, executive director of ACRES Land Trust, “they started in 1960, and 50 years later we don't have to ask the question of whether there is preserve-quality land out there. … There's still high-quality natural land areas out there.”
The Allen County Reserves was created with the goal of preserving land forever.
The Edna W. Spurgeon Woodland Reserve in Noble County became the group's first property donated in 1961 by its namesake. With the acquisition of the land outside of Allen County, the group changed its name to ACRES – an acronym for Allen County REServes.
Kissel says this year the organization expects to close on 12 properties. He says the Nature Preserves Act doesn't provide funding or many things that have to happen to acquire the land, but what it does do is offer a layer of protection and adds the state's commitment to preserving the land forever.
ACRES members – there are currently 1,400 – now protect 6,353 acres of local natural area and working land in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan, where visitors can explore more than 70 miles of trails from dawn to dusk.
In Allen County, the regional nonprofit permanently protects more than 1,300 acres with 16 miles of trails.
ACRES and the Division of Nature Preserves have partnered on many acquisitions of local natural areas using funding from the Indiana Heritage Trust.
The Division of Nature Preserves catalogs Indiana's flora, fauna and natural areas. The state's nature preserve system protects at least one example of almost every type of the 61 natural communities that existed when Indiana was settled. Currently, at least 90 percent of the 416 plants considered endangered, threatened or rare have viable populations in Indiana nature preserves.
ACRES' 31 state-dedicated nature preserves protect examples of a variety of natural community types such as old growth forests in Bicentennial Woods in Allen County; geologic features at Hathaway Preserve at Ross Run in Wabash County; swamp forest in Lloyd W. Bender Memorial Forest in Noble County; and waterfalls and cliffs at Kokiwanee in Wabash County. The organization also helps to protect large landscapes such as the Cedar Creek Corridor in DeKalb and Allen counties, where numerous endangered, threatened and rare species call home.
“Our view is that 50 years is great, but it's a blink of an eye,” Kissel says. “We love to celebrate 50-year anniversaries but we're quick to remind people that it's the first 50 years.”
He says that a lot of the land that is acquired now will be better 100 years from now.
“We're always reminding people that ACRES is an organization that occurs because people support it,” Kissel says. “It's not funded by tax money, but funded by people who say it's a good idea and support it.”
To see a list of the preserves, go to acreslandtrust.org.