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Column: Land purchase will offer many benefits

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The Central Indiana Land Trust has bought 109 acres of the forest off Hougham Road in southwestern Johnson County and plans to open it as a nature preserve the public can visit.

The Indianapolis-based environmental nonprofit group raised $500,000 in donations to buy the land from a family that 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.

The land is part of a 4,000-acre tract 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. If the state decides to make the land a preserve, it will sometimes give the land trust money to buy it.

The rest of the money the land trust uses to buy land comes from donations and membership fees, which also are used to maintain the land and 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. 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.

“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.

Setting aside this land will preserve it. It means the wooded areas, which could have been logged or simply cleared for a housing development, will be allowed to mature naturally. This will allow future generations to glimpse a piece of what Indiana once was like.

And by building trails in the area, it will offer another valuable recreation option for area residents.

Clearly, the acquisition represents a unique investment in the future.

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