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Land trust buys woodlands tract: 109 acres of forest near Trafalgar to become public nature preserve

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Walkers and joggers will be able to use paths and watch for birds in a redwood forest near Trafalgar that is being preserved from development.

 The Central Indiana Land Trust, an Indianapolis-based environmental nonprofit group, has bought 109 acres of the forest off of Hougham Road and plans to open it as a nature preserve the public can visit.

The nonprofit raised $500,000 in donations to buy the land from a family who wants the land to be preserved, executive directer Heather Bacher said. The nonprofit also received a $180,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and donations from multiple local organizations to buy the land, Bacher said.

The land is part of a 4,000-acre block of forest that the land trust wants to preserve to protect certain species, such as the Eastern box turtle, worm-eating warbler and hooded warbler, conservation director Cliff Chapman said.

“It’s part of one of our identified core conservation areas. It represents the best slice of central Indiana,” Chapman said.

“Some people think Indiana doesn’t have great natural resources because we don’t have beaches or big mountains. But we’re rich in the hardwood forest that we have, and it’s really beautiful. People can enjoy and appreciate it before it’s all gone.”

The land trust’s mission is to conserve land either by buying it or by working with landowners to make their land a conservation easement.

In both cases, the land is protected forever from development, Chapman said.

Land that the nonprofit has bought in Johnson County, including the 109 acres near Trafalgar and 77 acres in the Center Grove area, has been dedicated as state nature preserves, meaning the land will be protected under the state’s Nature Preserve Act, Chapman said.

State officials must evaluate land to see if it meets certain criteria, such as being home to species whose populations are declining, before it can be named a nature preserve, Chapman said.

If the state decides to make the land a preserve, it will sometimes give the land trust money to buy it, Chapman said.

The rest of the money the land trust uses to buy land comes from donations and membership fees, which are also used to maintain the land, which includes getting rid of invasive species and keeping trails clear of debris, Chapman said. The Dr. Laura Hare Charitable Trust donated $200,000 for the land near Trafalgar, and the land trust plans to name the area the Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow in her honor.

The nonprofit also develops conservation easements, where landowners donate a portion of their land rights to the nonprofit to preserve the land from development, Chapman said.

The landowners still own and maintain the land, but a conservation easement that says the land cannot be developed, even if it is sold, will be legally tied to the property’s title, Chapman said.

The land trust has a conservation easement of 240 acres east of the Trafalgar land, Chapman said.

The land trust and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources have helped protect more than 1,000 acres of land near Trafalgar, Chapman said. The nonprofit does not have a plan for buying more land in the area or working with landowners to conserve it, Chapman said, but the land trust is giving landowners information on donating the land or maintaining it in hopes of conserving the land.

Bacher said the Trafalgar property would likely have been developed because counties around Indianapolis are seeing consistent growth.

“As the counties around Marion County continue to grow, our natural areas are more at risk for development. We want to protect them while we can,” Bacher said.

Bacher said the land trust wanted to buy the property to make sure residents can continue to visit the property and the animals that live there can keep their homes, including three species that breed there in the spring.

The Eastern box turtle, worm-eating warbler and hooded warbler live in the forest and are declining in numbers because parts of the forest are being developed, Bacher said. Chapman said the land the nonprofit bought should be large enough for the animals to live on and grow in population.

The land trust also wants residents to visit the forest and plans to use donations to build trails and a parking lot on the land, Bacher said. The trails will be designed in the spring and built by next fall, Bacher said.

The land trust hopes to give guided tours and allow community members, such as boy and girl scout troops, to do projects in the forest, Bacher said.

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