By BECKY SKILLMAN AND LEE HAMILTON
Co-chairs of the Indiana 2016 Bicentennial Commission
On Dec. 11, 2016, Indiana will celebrate 200 years of statehood. The Bicentennial Commission is planning a suite of activities to commemorate the occasion throughout 2016, but already the celebration is making an enormous and lasting statewide impact through the Bicentennial Nature Trust.
The BNT was launched in 2012 to preserve and protect important conservation and recreation areas throughout Indiana by matching donations of land or dollars. Property acquired with this fund will become part of the public trust to ensure that the land is protected for future generations of Hoosiers to use and enjoy.
The idea has enjoyed tremendous buy-in. The state seeded the program with a $20 million commitment, and the Lilly Endowment generously contributed $10 million to the effort. The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust granted funds to underwrite administrative costs of the program. Matching funds for individual projects have come from 86 unique organizations, including many of our state’s county-level Community Foundations.
Ninety-one individual land acquisition projects have been approved to date, covering 48 counties. Half of these projects are complete, resulting in more than 8 square miles of land set aside for conservation and recreation.
Each BNT project is unique, ranging from large tracts of hardwood forest, important wetland habitats, and local parks and trails intended for passive recreation.
In June, Gov. Pence announced the purchase of the Peoria & Eastern Trail corridor in Speedway. Acquisition of this 1.3 mile multi-use recreational trail represents a big step toward completion of a planned 5-mile loop through the town.
In Allen County, the BNT assisted ACRES Land Trust with the purchase of 87 acres known as Blue Cast Springs. The property features 30-foot bluffs overlooking the Maumee River and a mile-long walking trail open to the public.
Working with Sycamore Land Trust, Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Ducks Unlimited, the BNT helped secure public access for the 1,043-acre reclaimed Columbia Mine in Gibson and Pike counties. The site features forested wetlands, upland tree and prairie plantings, and several lakes.
Conservation was a cornerstone of the Centennial in 1916, which saw the creation of a new state park system beginning at McCormick’s Creek and Turkey Run. The Bicentennial Commission is proud to renew that tradition by making land preservation a cornerstone of our 200th birthday celebration. It’s hard to think of a more impactful long-term legacy.
It’s not too late for your community to take advantage of this opportunity. For more information about the BNT, please visit www.in.gov/naturetrust.
Becky Skillman and Lee Hamilton are co-chairs of the Indiana 2016 Bicentennial Commission. They serve along with 14 other distinguished Hoosiers to plan and develop activities appropriate to commemorate Indiana’s statehood and encourage all Hoosiers to participate in activities that highlight the bicentennial.