Dustin Preserve

Visitor amenity updates are underway at Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve, where a new gravel parking lot has been installed on Chapman Road in Huntertown.

ACRES Land Trust, a nonprofit organization based in Huntertown, will enhance the visitor experience at 28 nature preserves in its mission to inspire visitors to value, appreciate and support natural areas in the region. The four-year plan includes improvements to signage, parking, trail maintenance and online maps.

“We want visitors to access and navigate these natural areas with ease,” Jason Kissel, ACRES’ executive director, said in a news release. “Prominent signage and well-maintained gravel parking lots will let visitors know they have arrived at an ACRES property. Improved trail maintenance will allow you to enjoy the preserve experience without having to wonder if you’re on the mapped trail.”

Visitor amenity improvement projects are planned at 27 properties in Indiana and one in Michigan, including:

  • Bicentennial Woods, Allen County
  • McNabb-Walter Nature Preserve, Allen County
  • Fogwell Forest, Allen County
  • Blue Cast Springs, Allen County
  • Spring Lake Woods and Bog, Allen County
  • Tom and Jane Dustin, Robert C. and Rosella C. Johnson and Whitehurst Nature Preserves, Allen County
  • Vandolah Nature Preserve, Allen County
  • Heinzerling Family Five Points Nature Preserve, DeKalb County
  • James P. Covell Nature Preserve, DeKalb County
  • Pehkokia Woods, Huntington County
  • Tel-Hy, Huntington County
  • Bibler Nature Preserve, Jay County
  • Wildwood, Kosciusko County
  • Fawn River Nature Preserve, LaGrange County
  • Seven Pillars Nature Preserve, Miami County
  • Lloyd W. Bender Memorial Forest, Noble County
  • Lonidaw, Noble County
  • Edna W. Spurgeon Woodland Reserve, Noble County
  • Robb Hidden Canyon, Steuben County
  • Ropchan Memorial, Steuben County
  • Marion’s Woods, Steuben County
  • Wing Haven, Steuben County
  • Hanging Rock National Natural Landmark, Wabash County
  • Kokiwanee, Wabash County
  • Asherwood, Wabash County
  • Hathaway Preserve at Ross Run, Wabash County
  • Evelyn and Wendell Dygert Nature Preserve, Whitley County
  • Kauffman Nature Sanctuary, Hillsdale County, Michigan

The initiative includes retiring trail systems at about 20 properties that don’t meet ACRES’ new visitor amenity standards. The land trust will end public access at these properties by the end of 2024. ACRES will reallocate funds and resources used on those trails to the newly enhanced trails.

“The purpose of our trail systems is to connect people to our mission,” Kissel said. “We don’t want to miss opportunities to engage visitors. We want you to have a high-quality experience, gain an understanding of the work we do and learn how you can support the protection of natural areas.”

The trail systems slated for retirement include:

  • Munro Nature Preserve, Adams County
  • Maumee River Overlook, Allen County
  • Fox Fire Woods, Allen County
  • Herman F. Hammer Wald Nature Preserve, Allen County
  • Little Wabash River Nature Preserve, Allen County
  • Cypress Meadow, Allen County
  • Little Cedar Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, Allen County
  • Madison Township School Nature Preserve, Jay County
  • Glennwood Nature Preserve, Kosciusko County
  • Bock Nature Preserve, Kosciusko County
  • Richard G. and Mary H. Culp Nature Preserve, LaGrange County
  • Stark Nature Preserve, LaGrange County
  • Art Hammer Wetlands, Noble County
  • Florence Badger Nature Preserve, Noble County
  • Flat Rock Creek Nature Preserve, Paulding, Ohio
  • Ropchan Wildlife Refuge, Steuben County
  • Brammall and Richard Bruner Nature Preserves, Steuben County
  • Ball Lake Nature Preserve, Steuben County
  • Mary Thornton Nature Preserve, Wabash County
  • Anna Brand Hammer Reserve, Wells County

Trail retirements consider proximity to other trail systems, size, flooding and other challenges, as well as low visitation. Public access will end at those properties, but ACRES will continue to dedicate the same level of stewardship to those areas.

“Maintaining visitor amenities like trails and parking lots is a very small part of what we do. Protecting land involves keeping the property intact as well as natural resource management — how we maintain or enhance the health of our forests and wetlands. This includes invasive species removal and habitat restoration. That work will continue on every property, regardless of whether it’s open or closed to the public,” Kissel said.

ACRES occasionally hosts public events and members-only outings on closed preserves.

“Those properties are still worthy of visiting, but we’ll do it during the correct time of year and with a guide who can really explain the beauty of the property,” Kissel said.

ACRES will implement changes by the end of 2024, one community at a time, improving amenities in those preserves before retiring neighboring trails.

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