Big Walnut Creek

One Year at Big Walnut, a National Natural Landmark

In this 60th anniversary year of the National Natural Landmarks program, we asked our staff to share their favorite NNLs for the winter newsmagazine. Our Development Systems Manager, David, offered this reflection after one year as preserve monitor at Big Walnut. 

I have enjoyed getting to know Big Walnut natural area over the course of a year by volunteering with The Nature Conservancy as a preserve monitor. Through my monthly visits, I get to see this property throughout the seasons—a privilege that reveals things I wouldn’t learn in just one visit.

Big Walnut is a 2,458-acre natural area which encompasses two preserves and several trails. Co-managed by The Nature Conservancy and Indiana DNR, Big Walnut was registered as a Natural National Landmark in 1968.

Here are some of my favorite observations from one year at Big Walnut:

Winter: I took my first hike on the Tall Timbers Trail in December 2021 with TNC’s volunteer coordinator, Esmé. She walked me through the volunteer role and encouraged me to take pictures and report back.

In January I took a hike on the Hall Woods nature trail and encountered deep green ferns coming through the light dusting of snow. The banks of Big Walnut Creek had a thin layer of ice.

In February I returned to the Tall Timbers trail, this time with more snow on the ground. I spooked several deer as started down the trail and I watched them take off through the deep ravines. Wildlife tracks were everywhere in the snow! A better naturalist than myself would have been able to identify which forest creatures had come through, but it was amazing to me to see just how many creatures call this place home. As I continued down the trail, I came to a low creek bottom area, through which several tiny creeks flow as they make their way to Big Walnut Creek. Seeing these tiny creeks flow under the ice and snow was a treat.

Spring: In March I returned to the Tall Timbers Trail where a trail re-route had just been completed, adding a more scenic start to the trail. The air still had a chill and the trees were still bare, but new green shoots were beginning to emerge through the forest floor. Down the creek bottom area of the trail, Virginia bluebells and wild leeks were sneaking up through the leaves.

In April I made my way back to help with a garlic mustard pull on the Tall Timbers Trail. Thankfully we found only a little garlic mustard thanks to the diligent work of TNC stewardship staff and previous volunteers. What we did find were many different wonderful wildflowers blooming: trout lilies, squirrel corn, trillium and many others. After this volunteer day I walked a newer trail that weaves in and out of an area where TNC has planted many trees. It was encouraging to see this new forest taking shape.

In late May I returned to Hall Woods. So much had changed during the month of May. The trees were full, new flowers bloomed, and turkeys strutted around the cornfield neighboring the preserve. My favorite observation was the many beautiful tulip poplar blooms littering the forest floor.

Summer: I returned in late June after having taken a short vacation out west. While the natural areas out west were spectacular, I was happy to return home and visit Big Walnut, where the greens of the forest were deep and vibrant, and life was everywhere. I encountered a few raccoons heading back to their little hole in a downed tree as I hit the trail. The path was damp from recent rain, and the fungi were out in force, including a beautiful orange chicken of the woods mushroom (which even though many enjoy eating was left in place for others to see, because it’s a nature preserve!).

In July, I continued appreciating the forest full of life. I returned to one of the newer trails that passed through some open areas where there were many coneflowers and quite a few milkweed plants.

In August, I spotted a few pollinators visiting the many flowers and enjoyed watching the low flow of the creek trickle over the rocks.

Fall: In September when I visited the Tall Timbers trail, the air had started to cool and the creek ran very low. The leaves were still very green and a few of the summer flowers were still in bloom. I found several bumblebees.

By October, the Tall Timbers trail had changed again, with leaves transformed into all shades of orange, red, and earthy browns. Leaves floated on top of the small streams, at times making it challenging to find solid ground. I again saw several deer, which I hadn’t seen since winter.

In November, as I walked the trail, the forest had returned to a very similar state as it had been a year ago. I reflected on the year that had passed at Big Walnut. What a gift to experience all four seasons in such a special place.

I hope you find time to experience the wonderful treasures available in Indiana’s many nature preserves and National Natural Landmarks—not just in spring or summer, but throughout the year. Each season offers new and wonderful things in these amazing landscapes.

David Barickman

Development Systems Manager

Born and raised in Central Illinois, David spent many days as a child wandering around the river, forest and lakes there. He works behind the scenes as a key member of our fundraising team. When not working, David loves to be outdoors hiking, fly fishing, kayaking or woodworking.
Bison at Kankakee Sands

CILTI Founder Earns Prestigious Award

Ellen Jacquart started a career in conservation with no roadmap. While she was following her interests in higher academia, she never could have imagined that one day she would have founded a land trust, managed stewardship for The Nature Conservancy in Indiana, or worked successfully to ban the sale and trade of invasive plants. Continue reading

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.
Chimney Tops, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bear Country

This is the final installment in a series by White River Steward Grace van Kan. In part 3, Grace toured the Appalachian Bear Rescue facility. The story concludes…

Within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are an estimated 2,000 to 2,400 bears, and potentially 14,000 in North Carolina alone. They persistently return to their natal range: Appalachian Bear Rescue curators conducted research showing that bears travel outside of the home range for food, but always return. Additionally, bears that are removed from their home range will find their way back, even from out of state!
Continue reading

Grace van Kan

White River Steward

Grace grew up roaming the woods, creeks and wetlands around the Chesapeake Bay watershed. From an early trout-raising project to a “gap year” spent restoring coral reefs in Thailand, her interest in aquatic conservation has only grown. Now she cares for several riverine nature preserves as CILTI’s White River Steward.
Bear biologist David Whitehead shares Appalachian Bear Rescue's enrichment area

How to Rescue a Bear (with Appalachian Bear Rescue)

Third in a series by White River Steward Grace van Kan. In part 2, Grace described the “bear necessities” of black bears, as imparted by biologist David Whitehead. The story continues…

Much to our surprise, David brought us to the Appalachian Bear Rescue facility for a tour. We were allowed to visit because there were no bears being rehabilitated or housed in the facility at that time. ABR emphasizes restricting human contact with the bears to the absolute minimum.

Black bear

ABR may assist in responding to an overly-curious bear—that is, one who consistently wanders too near to campsites and other human facilities. Bears are “tranquilized,” not with something that will knock them out, but with a safer concoction of muscle relaxer and a dissociative. This way, there is little to no risk of a bear receiving a fatal dosage, nor hopping up too quickly and causing harm to a nearby person.

Bears will receive a full workup, conscious of what is going on around them, and be dropped off in a different area. The muscle relaxer-dissociative combo has been effective in keeping everyone safe, as well as deterring bears from reentering campsites on account of the memory of an unexpected workup.

During a workup, bears receive an identifying tattoo on the interior lower lip and a bright green ear tag. (We realized that the boar we saw, with his green ear tag, may have once visited ABR!)

The workup also involves checking bears’ weight and respiration. Then the ABR curator pulls a premolar. The premolar is a tiny tooth that is pulled to help determine the age of the bear in question. During the winter, tooth enamel grows slower. This means the tooth forms countable rings, kind of like a tree!

David Whitehead with a bear trap. Photo by Katie Lauer

We toured four trailers that sit at the front of the ABR grounds. The first trailer housed the kennels, four in total, which can be partitioned to hold eight cubs at a time, or up to sixteen if absolutely necessary. Some of the cubs that come in are prenatal, and are given heated blankets, heart monitors, “fur” blankets, or beds.

The next two trailers were cold storage and dry storage for food—lots of fruit and nuts! The fourth trailer was the “release” trailer, where bears receive their workup before being released back into their natural habitat.

Another portion of the facility that David showed us was the enrichment enclosure. This area is where larger and healthier bears spend time before they are released.

ABR enrichment area

ABR curators monitor bear behavior in the enrichment areas via cameras that were generously donated to the organization. This helps minimize human-bear interaction, making the reintroduction process easier for the bears.

Next up: Grace shares her best advice while in bear country. (Don’t feed the bears!) Find out more about her Great Smoky Mountains studies in our summer newsmagazine story, “River Deep, Mountain High.”

Grace van Kan

White River Steward

Grace grew up roaming the woods, creeks and wetlands around the Chesapeake Bay watershed. From an early trout-raising project to a “gap year” spent restoring coral reefs in Thailand, her interest in aquatic conservation has only grown. Now she cares for several riverine nature preserves as CILTI’s White River Steward.
Grace in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bear Necessities

Second in a series by White River Steward Grace van Kan. In part 1, Grace described the dramatic first sighting of black bears. The story continues…

The next day we were due to meet with bear biologist David Whitehead, a curator at Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR). Rehabilitating their first bear in 1996, ABR is an organization that rescues and rehabilitates orphaned and injured black bears. David is a wealth of knowledge and experience, sharing the history of black bears in the park and neighboring states. He also provided what I found to be a very enlightening lesson on bear biology. Continue reading

Grace van Kan

White River Steward

Grace grew up roaming the woods, creeks and wetlands around the Chesapeake Bay watershed. From an early trout-raising project to a “gap year” spent restoring coral reefs in Thailand, her interest in aquatic conservation has only grown. Now she cares for several riverine nature preserves as CILTI’s White River Steward.
Mama bear seen through binoculars

Smokies and the Bears

First in a series by White River Steward Grace van Kan

Back in March, I had the pleasure of joining a Field Biology class from Franklin College on a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park over their spring break. While many enticing plants and geological formations caught my eye, there was one furry highlight that we just couldn’t stop talking about: black bears. Continue reading

Grace van Kan

White River Steward

Grace grew up roaming the woods, creeks and wetlands around the Chesapeake Bay watershed. From an early trout-raising project to a “gap year” spent restoring coral reefs in Thailand, her interest in aquatic conservation has only grown. Now she cares for several riverine nature preserves as CILTI’s White River Steward.
Trillium now flourishes at Meltzer Woods

Meltzer Woods: A Wintercreeper Success Story

In less than ten years, Meltzer Woods‘ wintercreeper problem has come under control.

What is wintercreeper? If you spend any time in a residential area, you will see this evergreen vine in gardens and/or climbing trees. For years, nurseries sold it as a groundcover, like English ivy. Continue reading

Jamison Hutchins

Stewardship Director

Jamison leads our stewardship team in caring for the land that is so important to you. He brings not only a love of nature, but an ability to create meaningful partnerships that advance crucial work.
Phillip carrying his 25-pound pack, with sandhill cranes overhead

A Burn for the Prairie

Members of our stewardship team completed their annual “pack test” recently as part of fire training. This time their task was to carry a 25-pound backpack for 2 miles in less than 30 minutes. Continue reading

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.
Wintercreeper smothers native wildflowers

Wintercreeper: From Ornament to Threat

Part of a series on invasive species by guest blogger Ed Pope

Wintercreeper is an invasive evergreen plant that can overrun native vegetation. It is capable of vining up to 50 feet in height on trees, shading them out. It can also be a ground cover, where it forms a dense mat that prevents native wildflowers from growing on forest floors. Continue reading

Ed Pope

Guest Blogger

Ed Pope is a retired engineer from Rolls-Royce and a CILTI member since 2002.
Birds and poetry at Oliver's Woods

A Year in Nature

In 2021, we offered a variety of ways to get out in nature throughout the year. From guided hikes to volunteer days to special events, it was a great year to get outdoors.

Continue reading

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.