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Nature Conservancy Assists With Acquiring Orange County Tract
Updated March 13, 2014 7:12 AM
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(ORANGE CO.) - The process took more than a dozen years, but 245-acres of land in Orange County is now part of the Hoosier National Forest, helping protect significant natural resources within the Forest and providing increased recreational opportunities for all Hoosiers.

"This was a piece of land that was just too good to miss getting into public ownership," said Mary McConnell, state director for the Indiana Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Conservancy staff worked closely with the Hoosier National Forest to acquire and hold the land until it could be transferred to the Forest.

The process began on November 9, 2001, when Paula Blanton Foster called TNC to see if they were interested in her family's property in Orange County.

The Conservancy worked to negotiate a deal with the family that would both protect the property, and also meet the family's expectations. TNC acquired 212 acres from the Blanton family in August 2002. A little over a year later, in October 2003, TNC also acquired the adjacent 33 acres from Integra Bank.

TNC never intended to keep the land permanently. They planned to hold the property temporarily and then transfer it to the Hoosier National Forest which manages the nearby Wesley Chapel Gulf property. The land is significant due to its proximity to the Lost River and its key role in providing clean water for the area, supporting watershed health and protecting nearby cave systems, which are vitally important habitat for numerous rare animal species.

Kelly Weigel, a realty specialist for the Hoosier National Forest, explained once TNC secured the land, the next steps were up to the Forest Service. The property was outside of the Forest's administrative boundary at the time, so the Forest couldn't acquire the tract without extending the boundary. What initially seemed relatively simple turned into a decade-long endeavor.

The Hoosier took a proactive approach during the last twelve-plus years with:

Numerous meetings, field visits and conference calls to promote the acquisition and boundary adjustment,

Forest and TNC staff visits to the Forest Service Regional and Washington Offices,

An administrative boundary adjustment, which was approved by the US Department of Agriculture in August 2008,

Securing purchase dollars from the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2012, and

Resolving multiple complex land title issues.

The 245-acre addition to the Forest contains some mature woods; however it is mostly open land, much of which has been planted to native hardwoods by the Conservancy to help restore forest habitat. The property is bounded on parts of three sides by county roads and supports a wide range of recreation opportunities, including hunting and hiking.

McConnell and Weigel agree that the long process has been well worth it when they envision the potential of a large block of land restored along the Lost River and available to the public to enjoy. For more information on this newly-acquired property and other opportunities on the Hoosier National Forest, contact our office in Bedford at 812-275-5987.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, see www.fs.fed.us.

The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide. In Indiana, the Conservancy has worked for 50 years at over 195 sites to protect more than 80,000 acres. Working from eight offices across the State, the Conservancy works with local communities on issues of vital interest, including the quality and quantity of Indiana's freshwater. Visit us on the web at nature.org/Indiana.



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