Land Trust's `cHallenge' Aims To Get Hoosiers Back Outdoors

TRAFALGAR, Ind. (AP) — The wind whistled through the bare branches of towering red and white oaks at Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow, carrying the scent of the forest and of the arrival of spring.

From on top of a ridge, visitors to the Trafalgar area preserve could look out over small lakes and ponds that are part of the Lamb Lake system. If they listened closely, they might hear the fluting of the wood thrush and the voices of worm-eating and hooded warblers.

Passing another hiker is a rarity, as the preserve is one of Johnson County’s best kept secrets. But the trust that oversees the beautiful natural spot hopes to encourage more people to discover it in the coming months.

The Central Indiana Land Trust has created the Trek Our Trails Challenge, a program designed to motivate people to get outside and enjoy nature. Over the next seven months, participants in the challenge have to visit five of the land trust’s properties, including Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow.

Those who finish the challenge will receive a Central Indiana Land Trust pin as well as the chance to win prizes along the way. While the opportunities to win a prize is enticing, the real benefit is enjoying the beauty hidden in the forests and prairies of central Indiana.

“It’s so meaningful to see families and neighbors come together during the pandemic and get outside, to appreciate nature in a way that I can’t say I’ve seen before,” said Stacy Cachules, assistant director of the Central Indiana Land Trust. “For us to make a fun little challenge, it seemed like a nice way to continue keeping people coming and get that next group of people out, to serve some places up to really get them into nature.”

The Central Indiana Land Trust is an organization dedicated to protecting the region’s natural areas, as well as the animals and plants that live in them. The trust oversees 20 properties, 12 of which are open to the public.

Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow is the only one in Johnson County. The preserve was made possible by a $200,000 gift from the Dr. Laura Hare Charitable Trust in 2012, as well as funding from the Indiana Heritage Trust. The trust expanded it in 2016 to incorporate 40 acres to the south, protecting the forested watershed of the streams flowing through the preserve.

The 149-acre preserve is a prime habitat for migratory birds and forest interior nesting birds. Along the moderately difficult two-mile trail, people will encounter hills and valleys, age-old trees and a soothing waterfall.

Several streams feed into nearby ponds and lakes, creating an inviting habitat for turtles, snakes and woodland animals.

“It’s such a lovely place in the spring. You’re really going to start seeing some wildflowers popping up, and it’s always on our radar for having a really nice bird population that comes through,” Cachules said.

Promoting this unique preserve, and four others in nearby counties, was the primary goal of the Trek Our Trails Challenge.

Land trust leadership created the challenge in late 2020. Throughout the pandemic, the preserves around the state have seen an incredible increase in the number of people visiting the properties, Cachules said. They heard feedback from all different kinds of people expressing their appreciation for these places and the ability to use them throughout a difficult year.

“We protect land for nature, but if we can make it open to the public, we try to do that. We don’t expect to have the visitation that state parks have or things like that, but we received more personal letters and notes from members than ever before,” Cachules said.

With the increased interest in the preserves, officials starting thinking about this coming year. They envisioned a fun program that would encourage people to use the land trust properties, as well as discovering new places that they’d never been.

Thinking about the logistics, they picked out five that were not only open to the public, but were equipped with parking lots, trails and other amenities that would attract the public.

In addition to Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow, officials chose preserves in Hamilton, Hendricks, Morgan and Shelby counties.

Burnett Woods features an easy 1.5-mile trail on 80 acres near Avon, and is an outstanding place to see wildflowers including including wild geranium, woodland phlox and trillium.

Fred and Dorothy Meyer Nature Preserve near Martinsville offers steep slopes, ridges and valleys, giving hikers a dramatic view of the forest. Rare species such as the hooded and worm-eating warblers, Eastern box turtle and the state-endangered cerulean warbler make the preserve their home.

The Nonie Werbe Krauss Nature Preserve offers a two-mile, easy walk through butterfly-laden prairie and woodland in Fishers. Finally, find one of Indiana’s last remaining fragments of old growth forest in Meltzer Woods, where many of the trees are more than 300 years old.

“The Meltzer family has had a family woods there, with trees the protected for many years,” Cachules said. “We’ve made it one of our highlighted preserves. It’s great for families — easy, flat, about a 1.2-mile trail. And you can really see some fantastic old-growth trees.”

To enter the challenge, take a photo of yourself at the nature preserve sign or trailhead, either before or after your hike. Those photos can be emailed to smiller@conservingindiana.org. People can also post them to the Central Indiana Land Trust Facebook or Instagram using hashtags #cilti #trekourtrails2021.

The deadline to complete the challenge is Nov. 26 — Black Friday. A large guided public hike has become a tradition for the land trust on that day, though they had to cancel the event in 2020. That seemed like a fitting day to wrap up this current challenge, Cachules said.

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People seem really excited about it. Our goal is to just get people out, especially as we’re getting into spring where you’ll see wildflowers, bird watching opportunities, all of these kind of nature moments that are really fun to experience,” she said.

AT A GLANCE: Trek Our Trails Challenge

What: A self-guided program encouraging people to get out to five of the area nature preserves overseen by the Central Indiana Land Trust.

When: Through Nov. 26

Where

Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow, 3637 Hougham Dr., Trafalgar: A prime habitat for migratory birds and forest interior nesting birds.

Burnett Woods, 8264 E. CR 100S, Avon: Offers a perfect spring hike for the whole family, with an easy 1.5-mile trail that features a stunning display of wildflowers, including wild geranium, woodland phlox and trillium. Parking available at next-door Light and Life Methodist Church.

Fred and Dorothy Meyer Nature Preserve, 2380 Observatory Road, Martinsville: Steep slopes, ridges and valleys that give hikers a dramatic view of the forest where people may see rare species like hooded and worm-eating warblers, Eastern box turtle and the state-endangered cerulean warbler.

Meltzer Woods, 1522 S. CR 600E, Shelbyville: One of Indiana’s last remaining fragments of old growth forest where you’ll find trees more than 300 years old.

Nonie Werbe Krauss Nature Preserve, corner of 116th Street and Eller Road, Fishers: A two-mile, easy walk through prairie and woodland in Fishers. Particularly in summer, its wildflowers draw butterflies galore. Parking available behind Riverside Middle School after 4 p.m. and on weekends.

How to take part: Take a photo of yourself and any companions at the nature preserve sign or trailhead, either before or after your hike. Email your photos to smiller@conservingindiana.org or post them to the Central Indiana Land Trust Facebook or Instagram using hashtags #cilti #trekourtrails2021.

Information: conservingindiana.org

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Source: Daily Journal