Nature in the City Tour

The shortest of our tours, this 3-hour jaunt explores four natural areas owned and/or managed by the City of Bloomington. Destinations include:

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This tour begins at the City of Bloomington’s oldest park – Lower Cascades – which  dates to 1921, when city officials, concerned about a nearby stone quarry’s expansion plans, voted to turn that “beautiful narrow strip of land” out on the “North Pike” into a park to prevent “further destruction of the beauty of the scenery.”

After the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression left hoards of Southern Indiana coal and limestone workers unemployed, “make-work” projects from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal funded labor costs for development projects at Cascades in the 1930s, like retaining walls along Cascades Creek, shelterhouses, bridges, drinking fountains and massive, limestone picnic tables.

Today, Lower Cascades Park covers 68 acres and, in addition to the historic limestone features, has a playground, hiking trails and softball fields.

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Dedicated in 1991, the 1,179-acre Griffy Lake Nature Preserve conserves the forested ridges and ravines that surround Griffy Lake, just north of the Bloomington city limits.

A City of Bloomington property, Griffy is known for its teeming plant and animal life. The preserve is home to 19 mammal species, nearly 160 birds and more than 20 reptiles and amphibians. The verdant hills and valleys drain into the 109-acre Griffy Lake and a 14-acre emergent marsh.

A popular destination for hiking, fishing, boating, wildlife observation and other outdoor recreational activities, Griffy Lake Nature Preserve features picnic tables, boat rentals and four moderately difficult hiking trails that wind through the hills around the lake.

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The 95-acre Leonard Springs Nature Park is located just southwest of Bloomington and is a former reservoir that provided drinking water for city residents. Fed by the Leonard Spring and Shirley Spring, which develop from a number of outlets in two large spring alcoves, the preserve features caves, waterfalls and a wetland.

The city purchased the property between 1914 and 1917 to construct the reservoir. But by 1943, Bloomingtonians received their water from other sources, and the lake was drained. The property sat unused for decades, slowly evolving back to its original wetland condition.

In 1998, Bloomington Parks and Recreation purchased the property from Bloomington Utilities Service Board and created the Leonard Springs Nature Park a year later.

The park is open to the public and includes a rugged, mile-long loop trail.

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The 10-acre plot of old-growth forest known as Latimer Woods is the smallest Natural Bloomington destination. But in many ways it is the most impressive. Managed by the City of Bloomington, Latimer Woods is old-growth in the purest sense of the word. And it’s located in one of the most developed parts of the city, bounded by a city street, two apartment/condo complexes, a car dealership and the College Mall.

The woods are dominated by massive, towering tulip poplars, black walnuts, white ash, sugar maples and American beech, some of which were here before the settlers arrived. Its open, airy understory is characteristic of climax forests.

The Latimer preserve is dedicated to Clarence and Lizzie Latimer, “whose hard work, frugality, and love of the land has kept this tract relatively intact for 145 years,” according to one of several interpretive plaque scattered around the property. In 1999, their descendants dedicated the forestland to the Bloomington Community Foundation, which turned its management over to the City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department.

The city manages Latimer Woods for low-impact activities such as research, casual visitation and education.

The Latimer Woods Nature Trail is a moderate-level, 0.38 mile of dirt and wood chips. The Trail winds through the woods and creek of the former Latimer Farm.

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