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Indiana gets a bad rap for being nothing but flat fields of corn and soybeans.

But from its sandy beaches in the northwest to the hilly landscape to the south, the state’s natural wonders are out there to discover if you know where to look.

Even in Johnson County, rocky embankments and thick forests indicate the edge of glaciers that sculpted the land.

That landscape will be on display as part of a new statewide program to connect Indiana’s natural spaces with its literary history. Next Indiana Campfires will invite lovers of both nature and books to traverse some of the most beautiful, and sometimes unexplored, areas in the state.

At each location, participants will hike, bicycle, kayak or canoe along a predetermined route, stopping to read aloud works by important Indiana authors. People will have the chance at the end of the route to sit around a campfire, eat a meal and discuss the literature they just heard.

“We wanted to connect the landscape, the literature and Indiana’s bicentennial,” said Leah Nahmias, director of programs and community engagement for Indiana Humanities, which is organizing the program. “For us, we felt like there was an opportunity in our bicentennial moment to encourage Hoosiers to think about the present and future of Indiana, with an eye towards the past.”

Tucked into the wilderness areas around Lamb Lake is a clear boundary of where Ice Age glaciers stopped their march into Indiana. In its wake, it left steep bluffs, exposed bedrock, granite and waterfalls.

Threatened species such as the ovenbird and the Easter box turtle make the thick forests and streams their homes.

Glaciers End Nature Preserve is part of a natural area protected by the Central Indiana Land Trust. The preserve is expected to open to the public in 2017, but people can get an early peek at it when Next Indiana Campfires comes there on Oct. 28.

“Indiana is famous for being flat on the top and hilly on the bottom, and that’s because the glaciers came through and smoothed out everything. Glacier’s End is right at that point where the glaciers stopped moving,” Nahmias said. “It really is a special place that can tell us a lot about Indiana’s landscape and why it is the way it is.”

Next Indiana Campfires was envisioned by Indiana Humanities, a nonprofit encouraging people to think, read and talk, as a series of discussions about great Indiana environmental literature in state parks and preserves, Nahmias said.

The program calls on the legacies of some of the state’s most talented writers and vocal environmental writers to focus on stewardship of our natural spaces.

One of the foremost inspirations for the series is Edwin Way Teale, who grew up near the Indiana Dunes and went on to be a significant, Pulitzer Prize-winning nature writer in the 1950s.

“The initial idea was, what if we took people outside and read Teale in the Dunes? How cool would that be? And what if we include other famous Hoosier writers,” Nahmias said.

Well-known nature writers Gene Stratton Porter and Scott Russell Sanders will be prominently featured, as will popular Indiana authors such as Theodore Dryser, Kurt Vonnegut and Booth Tarkington, who while known for other works did cover nature in their writing.

Organizers have also tapped emerging authors working in Indiana for the program. DePauw University professors Greg Schwipps and Joe Heithaus have both explored the state’s natural spaces for novels and poetry they’ve written.

“It’s been fun discovering writers who do a lot with the environment, but are less well known,” Nahrias said.

Organizers will put these writings into the hands of humanities scholars who will be serving at the guide during the trips. As they pass certain sections of their trek, these scholars will help connect the literature and the land for participants.

The trips will range from short, easy hikes to overnight camping trips.

Participants can take a 90-minute walk through Wesselman Woods, the largest stand of old-growth forest in the state. They will have the chance to hike 4.6 miles through the bogs and sandy landscape of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Kayak trips in a bald cypress swamps, sunset hikes through prairies and walks through upland forest are all included.

“One of the things we’ve been thinking about is how we can showcase different types of Indiana landscapes. Can we do prairie, can we do forest, can we marshland, can we do dunes?” Nahmias said.

People will also get to see places that the public never gets into. Glaciers End is one of those areas, but the series will kick off on Wednesday by exploring Oliver’s Woods, an Indianapolis property owned by the Central Indiana Land Trust that is not open normally.

“It’s great for us to do things that are close to central Indiana, since a lot of people live here, and we want to showcase that you don’t have to go very far to see something special,” Nahmias said.

Each event has a charge ranging from $10 to $15, depending on the trip. The charge covers entrance into the park, as well as the guide, food and craft beer provided by Upland Brewing Co.

The exception is the overnight camping event at Morgan-Monroe State Forest, which will cost $200.

Organizers hope that the events also encourage people to create their own environment hikes, Nahmias said. Indiana Humanities will offer free “trek-and-talk” toolkits that give people instructions on what to bring and how to put together a special nature journey themselves.

“Each kit will have literature and discussion questions, some Indiana granola bars and some other goodies to help people get excited about the history of Indiana and people who have helped us think about the landscape,” Nahmias said.

Next Indiana Campfires

What: A series that pairs literature and nature to help Hoosiers explore Indiana’s wild places and spark conversations about conservation and stewardship.

How does it work: Participants will go into some of Indiana’s most diverse landscapes, led by a humanities scholar. They will hike, kayak, canoe or bike along a predetermined route, stopping to read passages by famous Hoosier authors dealing with the environment. At the end, everyone will gather around a campfire for food and drink, to discuss the works they heard along the way.

Who: Organized by Indiana Humanities, a nonprofit group that puts together events and activities designed to get people to think, read and talk.

When: Events are planned from May 11 to Nov. 5.

Cost: Most events cost between $10 and $15, with the exception of an overnight camping trip in Morgan-Monroe State Forest, which will cost $200.


  • Wednesday: Oliver’s Woods, Indianapolis. An hour-long walk through a Central Indiana Land Trust property not normally open to the public.
  • May 22: Wesselman Woods Old Growth Forest, Evansville. A 90-minute walk through Indiana’s largest stand of old growth forest.
  • June 7: McVey Memorial Forest, Randolph County. A 75-minute walk through upland forest interspersed with wetlands and prairie.
  • June 9: Syracuse-Wawasee Trails, Syracuse. A 90-minute sunset walk around Syracuse Lake.
  • June 18: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Porter. A hike across the Indiana Dunes’ 4.6 mile Cowles Bog Trail, allowing hikers to witness the dunes’ unique ecological succession.
  • June 25: DePauw Nature Park, Greencastle. Designed for kids ages 6 to 11 and their families, this walk will follow trails of a former quarry, exploring woods, streambeds and an exposed aquifer.
  • July 9-10: Morgan-Monroe State Forest, Martinsville. A backcountry hike and overnight camping trip in the hills of southern Indiana.
  • July 23: Merry Lea Environmental Education Center, Wolf Lake. A morning walk across prairie and wetland followed by a meal featuring local, sustainable food.
  • July 29: Eagle Creek Park, Indianapolis. A two-hour sunset paddling tour on Eagle Creek Reservoir and Fishback Creek.
  • Aug. 5: Prophetstown State Park, Lafayette. A sunset hike across the restored prairie, concluding with a discussion inside the Native American council house on site.
  • Aug. 14: Cardinal Greenway and Red-tail Nature Preserve, Muncie. A bike ride on the Cardinal Greenway to a preserved prairie.
  • Sept. 10: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Porte. A 90-minute walk along the Dunes Succession Trail.
  • Sept. 17: Hovey Lake Bald Cypress Swamps, Mt. Vernon. A sunset paddle through the northernmost stand of bald cypress trees anywhere in the nation.
  • Oct. 8: LaPorte County Watershed, Michigan City. A journey down Trail Creek by long canoe.
  • Oct. 8: Limberlost State Historic Site, Geneva. Hike the restored Loblolly Marshes.
  • Oct. 21: Marian University EcoLab, Indianapolis. A scenic walk through the 55-acre natural area nestled on the Marian University campus
  • Oct. 28: Glaciers End Nature Preserve, Johnson County. A two-hour trek through a unique ecological site, not open to the general public, shaped by the progress and retreat of glaciers.
  • Nov. 5: Morgan-Monroe State Forest, Tecumseh Trail, Martinsville. A late-autumn hike along the Tecumseh Trail.

Information and to sign up:

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.