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Next Level Program a Win-Win

Innovative state funding program leverages private donations to save land.

Putnum County Gem Protected Forever

Fern Station, nearly a square mile of contiguous mature forest, is a place where native flora and fauna have ample space to thrive. In 2023, a large group of partners came together to protect this 570-acre Putnam County property forever.

Central Indiana Land Trust, Inc. (CILTI) has a long history with this forest. Walking the property with the landowner in 2008, CILTI staff knew instantly that the land was nature preserve quality. But it would take a decade and a half to realize the dream of protecting this stunning natural area in perpetuity.

In 2022, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Conservation Trust (NLCT) infused $25 million into land protection projects throughout the state. This three-to-one matching program awarded CILTI a $3.1 million conservation grant toward Fern Station.

Celebrating the protection of Fern Station. From left, Rachel M. Simon, Chris Smith, Governor Eric Holcomb, Cliff Chapman, and Stacy Cachules. Photo courtesy of Emily Persic.

The landowner had already worked with CILTI to put many acres under protection over the years, so staff approached him about Fern Station. Unable to find a buyer, he had been considering dividing and selling the property. All this galvanized staff and supporters to raise the remaining $1 million to purchase the property. Without the state funding and the incredible outpouring of support, the land might have ended up in a very different status—but the forest is safe forever.

Fern Station is just north of The Nature Conservancy’s Fern Cliff Nature Preserve. CILTI’s ultimate aspiration is to connect the two protected areas.



Donor Dollars Make Addition Possible

After breaking ground on their first public nature park and facilitating the donation of two new preserves in 2023, Mud Creek Conservancy (MCC) kicked off its 30th Anniversary in 2024 by finalizing the purchase of the future “Blue Heron Nature Preserve,” protecting nearly 12 acres of forests and wetlands bordering Mud Creek.

This achievement piggy-backed off the success of the organization’s first acquisition in 2021, when a two-year grassroots-funded capital campaign secured a half a million dollars for the purchase of the 26 acres opening this spring as “Sargent Road Nature Park”.

“We have been working tirelessly since 2019 to purchase the property for Sargent Road Nature Park and to implement our vision for it,” said Ben Miller, MCC President.

“As an all-volunteer land trust, we already had our hands full, but we weren’t going to shy away from additional opportunities to protect wetlands and forests in the Mud Creek Valley.” That opportunity came when Miller learned about the Next Level Conservation Trust.

“It was thanks to ILPA hosting a presentation and Q&A with Indiana DNR that I figured out that we could leverage our hard work and community fundraising from the Sargent Road

Nature Park campaign as match for this impactful grant. Once that clicked, I knew we had to try to pull something off,” Miller said.

“The Next Level Conservation Trust was as “win-win” as it gets for us,” Miller said. “We would not have had the capacity to purchase these 12 acres at this time without the grant, and we welcomed the added protection of DNR conservation easements at these two sites.”

Along with Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park and the Fall Creek Greenway, the Mud Creek Valley contributes to one of Indianapolis’s largest remaining and highest quality natural habitats, consisting of over 2,500 acres of contiguous forest. This large forest corridor provides a home to wildlife not typically found in urban areas, such as great horned owls, slimy salamanders, box turtles, flying squirrels, and even the endangered Kirtland’s snake.


Where the Bison & Elk Roam

In 2022 LC Nature Park was awarded grant funds from the Next Level Conservation Trust which allowed them to acquire an additional 106 acres, bringing the size of the park to over 300 acres. The property’s former crop fields are being restored to native habitat such as sedge meadows and wetlands, tallgrass prairie, shortgrass prairie and upland prairies. An existing woodlot will remain with plans of eliminating invasives that have taken hold. The additional grazable land will supplement the grazing opportunities for the herds of bison and elk that live at LC Nature Park, lessening their dependance on supplemental feed and providing more room to roam.

LC Nature Park is located in the Little River Valley in Northeast Indiana. The property is on the former reserve of Chief Akima Neewilenkwanka of the Myaamia (Miami) Nation, according to maps dated from 1834. The Myaamia Nation of Indians of Indiana are active in this region and seek to protect, promote, record, and share the Myaamia of Indiana’s history, language, culture, and heritage.

Today, about 2,000 acres of forest, restored prairie, and restored wetland in the Little River Valley are protected by several organizations, including Little River Wetlands Project, Allen County Parks Fox Island Nature Preserve, ACRES Land Trust, and LC Nature Park. By restoring the cropland to tallgrass prairie and wetland, the adjacent Little River will receive less runoff, improving water quality. Downstream flooding will be reduced as the restored property releases water more slowly into the Little River after rainfall events. Restoring habitat along the Little River will also enhance this critically important wildlife corridor. The Little River and the Little River Valley are geologically, historically, and environmentally significant.


Cover of State of the Lands publication. ILPA logo is centered in the top third with the title, State of the Lands 2024 in a white font. Background photo shows a small child standing on a wooden boardwalk crossing a small creek in a young forest. The trees are small and still tower over the small person in the image. The trees have turned golden and leaves cover the ground around the trail and water.

Read the State of the Lands 2024 edition in full: get the pdf.