The Natural Bloomington Blog


Leonard Springs Nature ParkAugust is a time of transition in Bloomington, and so it goes at Natural Bloomington. This past week I worked with the folks at IU Press on some minor tweaks to the Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana manuscript, which is in the hands of a copyeditor now and scheduled to land back in my lap for one last look on Aug. 17. Other than preparing the index -- which is 90 percent complete already -- and proofing the layout, my part is done.

So in addition to thinking about some Fall outings, I am transitioning to some new, nature-related projects as my student neighbors here in the Bryan Park Neighborhood transform and remind that I will be back in the classroom in less than a month.


The Outdoors page in Sunday's edition of The Herald-Times features an account of last week's ecotour with members of the Heartland Association of the American Council of the Blind. Page editor Carol Kugler took the entire four-hour ecotour with us and wrote an excellent cover story that captures the spirits of the day and ecotourism. Here's the lead:

Local ecotours offer chance to responsibly enjoy nature

Getting people outside to enjoy the scenic, natural beauty of southern Indiana. That’s the basic goal of Natural Bloomington, a project created by Bloomington’s Steven Higgs, who has worked as an environmental reporter and writer for a number of years and runs a news website.


Leonard Springs Nature PreserveComparing ecotours is a bit like comparing your kids. Each is different. And there are no favorites. But as I told Saturday's ecotour guests on a four-hour journey through wetlands, caves, waterfalls and old-growth forest around and in Bloomington, this one, sponsored by the Heartland Association of the American Council of the Blind, was special. Here's a Photo Album.

I've always sought diversity in my ecotour guests, who have ranged from rural Ellettsville seniors to Indy Sierrans to IU students, whose ethnicities include Chinese, Pakistani, Indian and Syrian. But I had never imagined leading a group of folks with visual impairments into a cave. And their enthusiasm and curiosity were unmatched, not to mention their stamina and adventurous spirits. Due to a slow start, we dropped our first planned hike and still went more than an hour beyond our scheduled tour.


A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana is moving through the production process. (See one of the back-cover blurbs below.) And I'm ready to start reserving copies for the patient among us who would like to support the work we do at both Natural Bloomington and the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter. Click here for details and ordering, but here's the upshot.

I invested a lot of time and money in this project. But let's be honest. I wrote a book in the digital age. Any return on investment is way down the road and not likely to be very substantial, which I knew going in. But there's good work to do now that also takes resources. For example, next Friday I am interviewing Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas at his office in Bedford. We will videotape the interview and share it with the public through Community Access Television Services and other venues.

I've been looking over the agency's management priorities -- timber sales, wildfire reduction, wildlife habitat, trails, recreation, etc. -- and noticed that between 2008 and 2011, the Forest Service harvested between 350,000 and 600,000 cubic feet of timber from the Hoosier. Since then it's been in the low 7,000s. Mike's been there a year now. I look forward to hearing about and sharing his vision.


Beanblossom Bottoms Nature PreserveThis past week's epic rains prompted cancellations of Thursday's pre-hike and Saturday's ecotour with members of the Heartlands Group Sierra Club. After the weather broke, I spent a couple hours Saturday afternoon on the Axsom Trail in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness and gave today's reschedule a thumbs up (though it's unclear if many folks will show). Aside from some predictable muck in the valley, the trails are in top shape.

With the year's first outing ready to go -- weather reports couldn't be any better -- we also nailed down details for the July 18 ecotour with the local chapter of the American Council of the Blind. Rural Transit will provide the transportation. And Carol Kugler from The Herald-Times is going to meet us and write a story about the event.


Porter West Preserve - Monroe County, Ind.I've spent much of this summer hanging with the Sierra Club -- in person, online, and over the phone. I've attended and participated in conference calls with Hoosier Chapter executive and communications committees. In addition to the wilderness first aid training I wrote about last Sunday, this past week I edited my first edition of the Indiana Sierran, the Hoosier Chapter's biannual (for now) newsletter. And I will be spending two days in the Hoosier National Forest this coming week with folks from Indy's Heartlands Group.

Heartlands' Lori Adelson, a fellow member of the state chapter's Executive and Communications Committees, has invited me to be a "guest educator" on a hike they are organizing for next Saturday, June 27. In the morning we will take an easy, two-mile stroll along Waldrip Ridge to a late-19th-century homesite on Monroe Lake's southwest shore, where we're sure to greeted by a family of black vultures that now occupies the second floor. The three-mile afternoon hike will take place across State Road 446 on the Axsom Trail in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness. Following a near-400-foot relief from the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower to the Asxom Branch creek, this one is anything but easy.

The Club has a lot of rules, among them that each hike must have two trained leaders, and one has to walk the entire route ahead of time. So Lori and I will be hiking both legs on Thursday. I'm confident my 64-year-old legs can take it.


In the past 18 months, my guidebook project has assumed many forms -- idea, draft, headache, escape, excuse to travel and hike. This past week, it became real. IU Press approved my art -- 100 full color photos and hand-drawn maps -- and sent me the book cover for A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana, which I am sharing with you. I posted it on Facebook and had orders start coming in before I clarified it won't be published until June 2016.

But with the Press's blessing, I will soon be reserving books for folks who financially support my work -- that's really what Natural Bloomington is about -- and are willing to wait a few months for delivery. Sort of like Wimpy, for us old timers -- "I will gladly give you a guidebook next year for a hamburger today."

More on that soon.


Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area - Hoosier National ForestOkay, the guidebook is now in the capable hands of IU Press, my house is clearn(er), and my mind is free again and ready for the Real Work's next phase. After three hikes in the Hoosier National Forest's Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area in the past two weeks (Hayes Trail, Sycamore Branch Trail), one that's been percolating for a year or more materialized first. I'm calling it the Hoosier National Appreciation Project.

And while I've barely dedicated a millisecond of time to anything but the book the past month and am way behind on ecotours (I'd done three this time last year.), we're planning 2015's first. And it will be a good one. A friend is organizing it through the local chapter of the American Council of the Blind. With support from the group, I'm going to take eight to 12 group members to a couple Sycamore Land Trust properties north and west of Bloomington -- Porter West, Beanblossom Bottoms and, maybe, the Powell Preserve. Hopefully someone from Sycamore will join us.

I will wear multiple hats on the Hoosier National Appreciation Project.


Charles C. Deam Wilderness AreaThis time tomorrow, the Guide to Natural Southern Indiana package will be out of my hands. I completed the last line-by-line read Friday, finished the final scroll through and printed the first half on Saturday, and will wrap it all up today so I can turn it over to IU Press on Monday. Along the way last week I got some much-needed encouragement from State Geologist John C. Steinmetz, who also is director of the Indiana Geological Survey. He read and provided feedback on the natural history section.

As one who regularly preaches to students that "every keystroke is a potential mistake," after reading 73,000 words twice, I was more than ready to hear about my "engaging writing style." I've made all the tweaks I had put off till the end. Still, I'm really not ready to let it go and probably never would be. But my neck and shoulders feel like galvanized steel cables. And, as my chief adviser on this project told me, it's time to let go. Time to hear what someone else thinks.

So, as always happens with circular journeys, the end here marks a beginning. Last week's Photo Album from the Charles Deam Wilderness Area produced the last image for the guidebook and the first for a new project on the Deam, a return to one of my earliest photo projects, a 1982 slide show titled "A Photographic Journey Through the Deam Wilderness."


Leonard Springs Nature ParkIt'd been almost a month since I packed up the Nikon gear and laced up the hiking boots, with most of the time spent hovering over the MacBook fact checking a couple thousand or more references to almost 600 plant and animal species in the Guide to Natural Southern Indiana (new name). The manuscript is ready to go to IU Press on June 1, and I was more than eager to feel the trail beneath my feet. I also needed the exercise.

I still didn't have time to spend half of Monday in the woods. So given its location and the time of year, I opted for Leonard Springs Nature Park for the first slow and steady hike I've enjoyed since beginning the guidebook project 16 month ago. While it's absolutely my kind of work, the time I've spent in the Southern Indiana wilds has indeed been work -- and a lot of it.

The falls were rushing; the wildflowers were blooming; and the wetland-green was glowing at Leonard Springs. I hiked the entire trail, from the steps to the dam to the rest rooms and posted a new Photo Album on the Natural Bloomington website.



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