Heinzerling siblings Katrina Custer, Gretel Smith, Johanna Gordon-Byanksi and Derek Heinzerling reunited recently to share memories from the land now protected by ACRES Land Trust. Contributed photo
Heinzerling siblings Katrina Custer, Gretel Smith, Johanna Gordon-Byanksi and Derek Heinzerling reunited recently to share memories from the land now protected by ACRES Land Trust. Contributed photo
GARRETT — ACRES Land Trust welcomes its 93rd preserve — 116 acres filled with memories of the Heinzerling siblings and the promise of new memories for visitors to the southwest DeKalb County property, Heinzerling Family Five Points Nature Preserve.

“ACRES will develop preservation plans, including restoration plans for the property,” said Jason Kissel, executive director of the 5,717-acre nonprofit. While the Heinzerling Family Five Points Nature Preserve, located 5½ miles northeast of Huntertown, currently is closed, trails are part of the plan. It is the second ACRES preserve in DeKalb County.

“Gretel (Heinzerling) Smith first approached ACRES about preserving her family’s land in 2000,” said Kissel. “Indiana Bicentennial Nature Trust, the siblings and a generous Allen County couple who wish to remain anonymous made purchasing this land possible.”

Black Creek, which flows into Little Cedar Creek and then Cedar Creek, weaves through the preserve. The now-protected-forever ACRES land has vibrant wetlands, tilled agriculture acreage, forested wetlands and an oxbow stream and small-forested wetland system. The preserve has considerable local history, too — an interurban rail line and Five Points School once existed on the property.

“I’ve always wanted to preserve it,” said Smith of Garrett. “I’m so glad ACRES exists.”

Three of her five siblings – Katrina (Heinzerling) Custer of Garrett, Derek Heinzerling of Albuquerque, N.M., and Johanna Gordon-Byanski of rural Garrett – reunited recently at their family’s former property to reminisce. Franz Heinzerling of Hayden, Idaho, was unable to join his siblings. Hans Heinzerling died in 1991. Their parents were the late Thais and Harry DeKalb Heinzerling.

Derek Heinzerling loves the idea of preserving his childhood playground, where their playmates included fish, snakes, mussels and turtles.

“This is the right thing to do. There’s no question for us,” he said.

Gretel remembers Sunday afternoon family picnics on the property. She and sister, Katrina spent hours in the woods, swinging on old vines, pretending to be Tarzan and Jane. Katrina recalls trailing behind her grandfather, Carl Heinzerling, exploring the woods in her grandmother’s boots.

“We spent a lot of time in the maple sugar shack. We had a clubhouse there,” said Derek, pointing across Black Creek. “I remember walking the creek barefoot, finding artifacts.” He would fish the creek and climb the banks.

Franz played in the abandoned schoolhouse; Hans built his own playhouse behind the farmhouse that once sat on the property.

“The boys always had a snake in their pocket. I remember you had snakes in your bicycle,” Johanna said to a laughing Gretel.

Their grandfather, Carl Heinzerling, co-founder of Creek Chub Bait Company in Garrett purchased the property in the 1920s.

Their father, Harry Heinzerling, rode the interurban rail line out of Garrett in the morning to set a trap line on the property and returned to sell furs at his father’s hardware store, a local gathering spot.

“We evaluate land for acquisition using criteria including significant natural features, priority preservation areas, water quality and habitat protection,” said Kissel.

Landowners who wish to preserve their property forever with ACRES have numerous options including market value sale, bargain sale and donation. With Bicentennial Nature Trust funds available through 2016, landowners have an opportunity to preserve their land and receive income at the same time, he added.

Indiana’s Bicentennial Nature Trust awarded ACRES $245,000 toward the Heinzerling Family Five Points project. The Trust is comprised of an initial $20 million from the State of Indiana, reinforced by $10 million from Lilly Endowment, providing a 1:1 match for purchasing land. Indiana Heritage Trust provided $10,000 toward the purchase of the property, revenue from Environmental License Plate sales.

Indiana Heritage Trust was established in 1992 through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to preserve Indiana’s rich natural heritage.

ACRES Land Trust is dedicated to preserving significant natural areas in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan.

The Heinzerling acquisition helps ACRES toward its ambitious goal of protecting an additional 1,800 acres within the next three years, Kissel said.

© 2020 KPCNews, Kendallville, IN.