Eagle Creek focus on preservation, especially birds

Eagle Creek Park, ranked by Wikipedia as the 18th largest urban park in the nation, may be named after the creek turned 1,400-acre-reservoir that borders its western perimeter. And it is promoted as a place to “run, sail, bike and hike,” not to mention negotiate “treetop adventures” with 39 tree crossings and five zip lines. Its world-class rowing course was built for the 1987 Pan Am games.

But while all of that might raise the specter of developed recreation, the northwest Indianapolis park’s dominant theme is preservation – especially birdlife. A broad chunk of the reservoir’s northern edge is a boat-free bird sanctuary. Rising above its eastern shore is an ornithology center with indoor and outdoor viewing areas.

Nearly 4,000 of Eagle Creek’s 5,300 acres are forested, with minimal clearing for playgrounds and such. East of the water lies the 42-acre Spring Pond Nature Preserve. Across the bay, the 297-acre Eagle’s Crest Nature Preserve occupies the park’s northwest side. Campgrounds and RVs are nonexistent.

The trail to Eagle’s Crest passes a raised boardwalk that leads to a lowlands observation deck on the 60-acre Scott Starling Nature Sanctuary. The park east of the water is laced with nearly 17 miles of hiking trails on five paths.

Eagle Creek Park's contemporary history began in 1934 with the purchase of 12 acres by J.K Lilly, whose holdings had grown to more than 2,000 when he donated them to Purdue University in 1958. Purdue sold the verdant landscape eight years later to the City of Indianapolis to dam the creek for flood control and create a park around it.

Eagle Creek Park was dedicated in 1972. While Wikipedia’s List of Urban Parks by Size ranks Eagle Creek 18th at 4,766 acres, its 5,300 would move it up two spots on the list, which includes state parks.

Eagle’s Crest Nature Preserve

The Hoosier Hiker’s Council describes the 297-acre Eagle’s Crest Nature Preserve as “an oasis of mature hardwood forest” for nature lovers seeking quiet, natural solitude in the Indianapolis urban environment.

“With dramatic overlooks of Eagle Creek Reservoir and rare examples of primitive forest, the Eagle’s Crest Trail is full of variety and surprises,” the hiker’s council says on its website. “The thoughtful preservation of these ancient forest areas allows the visitor a rare glimpse into the past to see the landscape much as it appeared to the native Americans before European settlers arrived.”

Located on the park’s northwest side across the reservoir, the Dedicated State Nature Preserve supports old second-growth, moist, upland forest communities that were purchased by Lilly in the early days. Eagle Crest’s shoreline is situated directly across from the ornithological center and offers prime habitat for birdwatching.

Dominated by red oak, sugar maple, beech, white oak, shagbark hickory, and ash, some of the trees are stunning in their height and breadth. Thick blooms of native wild leek illuminate the forest floor in late summer.  Several uncommon or endangered native plant species thrive in its midst. Fall offers a kaleidoscope of color.

Eagle’s Crest preserve, which doesn’t require a park entry fee, is accessible only from the Scott Starling Nature Sanctuary parking area on Williams Road. A 1.25-mile loop trail follows a ridge with expansive vistas across the Eagle Creek Valley before descending to the water with expansive views of the bird sanctuary.

Spring Pond Nature Preserve

The 42-acre Spring Pond Nature Preserve represents the forest community that once covered the state’s Central Till Plain Natural Region, which spans a broad swath of Central Indiana from the Ohio to the Illinois State Lines. Its namesake waterbody, a marsh, not a pond, is on the reservoir's east side, inside the park gate.

This Dedicated State Nature Preserve is primarily mature second-growth on a relatively level, poorly drained upland site that is dominated by a wet-damp forest of beech, sugar maple, sycamore, bur oak, and ash. Its flat topography supports many wet, poorly drained spots.

Trails intersect within the Spring Pond boundary. A trail leads through the preserve to the marsh on Parkway East Drive just south of 62nd Street.

Eagle Creek Photographs: Top two, Eagle's Crest Nature Preserve; Bottom two, Lilly Lake


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