Since the onset of the COVID19 pandemic in 2020, a small group of like-minded individuals started meeting with Shirley Heinze Land Trust (SHLT) personnel about the concept of an emerging leaders group. I was one of those individuals who, at the time, did some volunteering at SHLT but also witnessed the organization take on new endeavors and initiatives to expand conservation into new counties. Fast forward through the pandemic, as we all would love to put that behind us anyway, and now that same group has grown to add a few others. We all met for the first time in-person on February 5th, stepping out of our vehicles onto a freshly plowed square break in the woods and property on what is known as Hildebrand Lake Nature Preserve. As SHLT Executive Director Kris Krouse explained the property history and significance, he mentioned one thing that stuck with me. He said, “When you get involved with SHLT, you quickly see how genuine we all care about the cause for land conservation in Northern Indiana.” And wow is that true! I drew on my own experience volunteering for the organization and realized – everyone at SHLT that I have met, from the staff to the volunteer committees, to the new folks I met that night – we all genuinely care about land conservation to protect the environment for future generations.
After the brief introduction to the property and each other, we were off for a hike through the snow and into the woods. Kris was our leader, and we quickly needed his guidance as this property is not open to the public (yet) and does not have trails marked. Kris joked this group needs to be tough and he wasn’t kidding for this hike! We hiked along the lake’s edge, where in the spring, would likely have water covering the path. We hiked through the snow, watched our footing over logs, held trees and brush branches back for each other to avoid smacking the next person in the face, and watched for the healthy deer manure that lined the same trail we were following. Clearly the deer know the best path along the lake. The views were incredible, as the lake is basically untouched for majority of the perimeter. We could all see the possibilities of the property. We could all sense the possibilities in each other.
After the roughly ¾ mile hike, making a loop back up to the square break in the woods where the homestead house once stood, we started talking about all the possibilities. It could be a place for a new looped hiking trail, one where there could be a path for when the lake water is low and one when the lake water is high. The trail would likely need steps constructed for the steep hill where the lake was left from the glacier about 10,000 years ago. We discussed how the former residence and property donors – the Lerner’s – loved gardening. There could be a native plant garden kept in their honor. Maybe a fishing deck or a canoe launch could be installed. This is a protected piece of SHLT property that has many opportunities to connect people with nature. With this new volunteer group emerging and growing, those possibilities will not be hibernating much longer.
– Kelley Davies, February 2022