The Natural Bloomington Blog

Apr
18

The following is a foreword written by historical author James Alexander Thom for my Guidebook to Southern Indiana Natural Areas. I am pleased, honored, and humbled by his words. - sh

***

Fourscore and two years ago, I decided that I wanted to be born in the most interesting part of Indiana, and so it happened, in a very small town called Gosport, which stood on a bluff above a bend of White River's West Fork.

Conveniently for me, the parents I'd selected had their doctors' office in that picturesque little town of seven hundred souls, and I was born in a bedroom upstairs from their office, which had a real human skeleton in it. Birth and death!

 

Apr
12

Raina Ricely, James Alexander ThomThe Guidebook to Southern Indiana Guidebook Natural Areas is due Wednesday, so what Natural Bloomington time I've eked out this past week -- in between my classroom responsibilities and mayoral reporting project -- has been focused on tidying up the manuscript and supporting materials. Today I've been triple checking the species list, which includes 500-plus plants and animals mentioned in the text.

The big news is I received a letter today from James Alexander Thom asking if a 1,400-word foreword is too long. (He misplaced my phone number, but I love trading letters, even if his are handwritten in elegant script and mine are manufactured digitally on a screen.)  I left a voice mail saying I can't imagine 1,400 of his words would ever be too much.

I know I've reported a lot of project lasts these past few months, but Jim's foreword truly is the final piece in the mosaic. I will edit the photos one last time, and IU Press may want some tweaks, but I'm ready to hand it off.

Apr
05

German Ridge Recreation Area - Hoosier National ForestThe end of any major project, like a book, is always accompanied by some melancholy, especially when the journey ends where it began, in this instance Hoosier National Forest. But since I have decided to dust of my journalist hat for the mayoral Primary (see below), I won't have a lot of time for retrospection after I relinquish the manuscript to IU Press on April 15.

This past week, Outdoor Recreation Planner Nancy Myers at the U.S. Forest Service in Bedford reviewed the manuscript's Hoosier sections, giving them an enthusiastic thumbs up. And I posted three photo albums from the Hoosier trip we took two weeks ago: German Ridge Recreation Area, Mano Point and Mogan Ridge East Trail. All three are located in Perry County near the town of Derby on the Ohio River.

German Ridge features a variety of recreational opportunities revolving around primitive camping, two hiking trails and a scenic lake deep in the forested hills between Derby and Tell City. The 24-mile, multiple-use German Ridge Trail is accessible from a half dozen parking lots and has several interior connector trails that form shorter loops.
 

Mar
29

Buzzard Roost - Hoosier National Forest

The winged shadow on the trail almost seemed scripted. Granddaughter Raina and I had just begun our descent along a half-mile Hoosier National Forest trail that leads from atop the precipitous bluffs we'd just walked along to the Ohio River below. A sign had just warned the trail was "steep, rocky, and slippery." The vulture overhead circled three times, just above the treetops, before drifting west in search of more promising fare.

I was changing lenses on orbit one, and lost my balance on the second. On the third orbit, the vulture, a.k.a. buzzard, a.k.a. peace eagle, passed over the opening in the bare tree branches just as i had hoped. I stood steady and nailed the image we had ventured a hundred miles to capture.

Indeed, the buzzard at Buzzard Roost was -- most likely -- the last image I will shoot for the Guidebook to Southern Indiana Natural Areas project. That's why we were so deep in Perry County. To fill the last two holes in the guidebook's photo collection, one at the Buzzard Roost Recreation Area and another just down the road at the German Ridge Recreation Area.
 

Mar
22

Selma Steele Nature PreserveI had the Middlefork Waterfowl Resting Area and Selma Steele Nature Preserve in mind before a busted bridge east of Nashville thwarted my plans to visit two Hoosier National Forest Watchable Wildlife Sites in Southeast Brown County on Saturday.

I've never explored the Middlefork marshes in the Monroe Lake bottoms, and Google Earth shows a couple roads that could provide access to them south of the one granddaughter Raina and I found while nosing around out there a few weeks ago. There's only space for one vehicle at a the dead end of a narrow, one lane road lined with No Trespassing signs. I figured there had to be another access point.

Jan
31

Even as I drove north from Mt. Vernon under increasingly heavy cloud cover, I still harbored poetic visions of my 12-month journey through natural Southern Indiana ending with a blazing sunset on the Wabash River in Harmonie State Park. I hadn't planned it that way. I hadn't even thought about it until a few hours before while exploring the Wabash Lowlands under a brilliant January sun.

As the clouds built, I kept my eye on the sky and lowered my expectations, maintaining a relaxed pace on State Road 69. One scenario involved making the park stop a quick photographic shoot-and-flee so I could at least drive through nearby New Harmony, my favorite historic site in Indiana.

The sun piercing the clouds just past the park gatehouse quashed the anticlimactic storyline I had accepted on the road. An albeit narrow window for light on water superseded New Harmony. The speedometer approached 70 – inside the park. The road ended here: Harmonie State Park – Wabash River -- but, it turned out, the journey ended a couple hours later just outside Petersburg on I-69.

 

Jan
24

I knew Southwest Indiana had swamps, that there are places down where the Wabash meets the Ohio that look more like Louisiana than Indiana. But I can't say for certain when or in what context I learned about them. And I'm sure I never envisioned walking on a frozen swamp, or had even considered the possibility, honestly.

The Goose Pond Cypress Slough Nature Preserve was the second, bald cypress tree-sporting, Southern Bottomlands preserve that I explored the first week in January. Others included the Eagle Slough Natural Area south of Evansville on the Indiana-Kentucky border and the Twin Swamps Nature Preserve a couple miles northwest of the Wabash-Ohio confluence. The bell-bottomed cypress trees at Goose Pond weren't the first I photographed. But they were the first I touched. And to do it, I walked on ice.

Along the way I also explored the Hovey Lake Fish & Wildlife Area and Section Six Flatwoods and Wabash Lowlands Nature Preserves.

Jan
17

It's fitting that the final trip on the Guidebook to Southern Indiana Natural Areas project included a stop at Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve, which is not just the largest stand of virgin timber in the state; it's the largest urban forest in the nation. I hiked part of the trail with naturalist Neal Bogan – first stop, the state's tallest tulip poplar. And as I learned from Nature Center Executive Director John Foster, that former state champion tree's existence today is owed to happenstance, not design.

Unlike many of the natural areas discovered on this journey, nearby Kramer Original Woods Nature Preserve, for example, Wesselman's  old-growth trees were not preserved for future generations by far-sighted or eccentric landowners. Bordering the historic Wabash & Erie Canal, they were part of a 539-acre estate that passed through a series of landowners, each of whom could have but didn't cut them before the land became state property in 1919. Had the canal, which originated Toledo, not failed two years after it reached Evansville in 1874, their owner most likely would have, Foster told me.

Today, the 197-acre Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve is located in the city-owned Wesselman Woods Park and is managed by the nonprofit Wesselman Nature Society. Its lowland forest supports roughly 125 trees per acre, some more than 150 feet tall and 300-plus years old. Its forested wetlands and seasonal pond provide habitat for a variety of animal species, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds.

Jan
10

After nearly a month of committed noncooperation, the weather gods relented this past week and offered enough sunshine and workable temps for me to finish the field work on the Guidebook to Southern Indiana Natural Areas project. On another whirlwind excursion Monday and Tuesday, I explored the last 11 nature preserves along the Ohio and Wabash River lowlands, photographing the state's tallest tulip tree and my first bald cyprus knee along the way.

The first stop featured a hike on hallowed, historic ground in the Lincoln Woods Nature Preserve, a.k.a. President Abraham Lincoln's stomping grounds from 1816 to 1830, and a visit to his sister's grave. By the time I literally raced the sun to the Wabash at Harmonie State Park 32 hours later, I had hiked through the state's largest stand of virgin timber and walked on swamps that, had they not been frozen, would have felt more like like Louisiana than Indiana.

Since my return, I've processed and posted images for three photo albums – Lincoln State Park, Kramer Original Woods Nature Preserve and Blue Grass Fish & Wildlife Area – and updated their sections in the manuscript. I also began the tedious process of learning to be a mapmaker. Also, I was elected to the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter.

Jan
03

 

The Glaciated Section: Not much 'nature' left

Think Southern Indiana nature, and the Glaciated Section of the Southwestern Lowlands Natural Region doesn't leap to mind – for good reason. The land is low and flat. And what little nature that's left is mostly healing scars. Of the nine natural areas I've explored, from the Wabash River in West Terre Haute to the Prairie Creek north of Washington, all but two are entirely or partly old coal mines, now owned and managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Even the 2,600-acre Wabashiki Fish & Wildlife Area (FWA) on the Wabash's west bank in Vigo County includes some old strip pits. The Thousand Acre Woods Nature Preserve in Daviess County has never been mined, but Prairie Creek's north and south forks, which converge within its boundaries, both have been ditched for agriculture. The 8,064-acre Goose Pond FWA – the section's ecological gem – is a reconstructed wetland, bisected by a busy state highway.

But in terms of preservation, the Glaciated Section's protected natural areas are as important, if not more so, than their spectacular counterparts to the east. They are also a testament to the role hunting and fishing plays in the state's conservation efforts.

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