CHILI — An Indiana land preservation group is developing a new 140-acre nature preserve in northern Miami County along the Eel River after an Indiana couple sold their 100-year-old family farm to the organization.
ACRES Land Trust, a nonprofit based near Fort Wayne that currently preserves around 5,200 acres in northern Indiana, purchased the land located about 9 miles north of Peru last month from Duane and Dana Davis, who now live near Muncie.
Jason Kissel, executive director of ACRES, said the couple approached the group three years ago about selling the property, which contains Flowers Creek, 80 acres of farm ground, 54 acres of forested wetlands and more than 1,000 feet of frontage on the Eel River.
“This land has been in their family for 100 years, and they were interested to seeing it protected,” he said.
Although the land was appraised at $660,000, the couple sold it to the group for $350,000.
“They gave us a tremendous deal,” Kissel said.
The Bicentennial Nature Trust, established by former Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2012, picked up most of the bill, paying $250,000. The Indiana Heritage Trust paid another $50,000, leaving only a $50,000 tab for ACRES.
Kissel said the group was particularly glad to purchase and preserve the new acreage since Flowers Creek is one of the many tributaries flowing into the Eel River. He said the nonprofit is attempting to purchase as much ground as possible along the river to improve its water quality.
“We want to provide a lot of protection to the whole Eel River corridor, and this area really holds a lot of water from Flowers Creek before it heads into the Eel,” Kissel said.
ACRES also maintains Seven Pillars Nature Preserve in Miami County, 147-acre park along the Mississinewa River south of Peru that contains 25-foot limestone pillars.
Now that ACRES owns the new plot, Kissel said it’s time to start preserving what will soon be known as Flowers Creek Nature Preserve and turning the area into a public access site with over 2 miles of trails.
Over the next year, a group of scientists, including a botanist, geologist, ecologist and aquatic expert, will study the area to determine if it contains any unique or endangered animal or plant species.
Kissel said they already know the lot has 6 acres of sedge meadow, an ecosystem of low grass-like plants that grow in wetlands. That’s a unique environment to find in northern Indiana, he said.
The land is also home to a rare and endangered species of mussel, as well as bald eagles, river otters and Indiana bats.
Beyond that, Kissel said, there could be any number of interesting creatures, critters and plant life.
“It would not surprise me at all if we find a lot state and national endangered plant species there,” he said. “ … Once the scientists key in on something that’s unique, they’ll bring in a specialist that’s even more specialized than they are. We keep drilling down until we really know what’s there. It’s a fun process.”
Experts will also analyze the farm ground to determine what kind of ecosystem it used to support. Once that’s determined, ACRES will help return the land to its original state sometime in the next decade.
“Some of the areas, we may just let nature take its course,” Kissel said. “Other areas, we may plant trees to give the land a little head start … That all takes a lot of time, but we have the luxury of patience. We know the land’s not going anywhere now.”
ACRES will also tentatively lay out a trail system and monitor the proposed paths over the next year to ensure they are safe and don’t flood.
The nature preserve must be open for public use by 2016 — a stipulation that comes with funding from the Bicentennial Nature Trust — but Kissel said it will likely be open sooner than that.
With $30 million available for land preservation in the Bicentennial Nature Trust, ACRES is making a major push to acquire as much land as possible in coming years.
Kissel said the organization already has its sights on other properties in Miami County along the Eel and Wabash rivers.
“We’re trying to utilize the state money as best we can, so we’re pushing to get all the acquisitions we can while the money is available,” he said. “We preserve land for a lot of different reasons. But the main reason is because once the land is gone, it’s gone.”