Big Walnut Nature Preserve

Committed to Conservation

Third in a series memorializing our friend and benefactor, Len Betley

Our spring newsmagazine features a tribute to the late Len Betley, who left a tremendous land protection legacy. Bill Weeks, who has a long history of service in the conservation field, worked with Len in the 1980s. We asked him to share some highlights of their collaboration.

Len was on the board of The Nature Conservancy of Indiana when Bill joined as only the second paid staff director. (When Len first served on the board in the 1960s, the organization was still all-volunteer.) Len would go on to serve as board chair while Bill was in the director role, and a great many natural areas came under protection during those years.

“One year we did 20 acquisitions,” Bill recalls. Among the highlights were additions to Big Walnut Nature Preserve in Putnam County, which expanded from one acre to over 2,400 acres now. Relic populations of Eastern hemlock and sweeping vistas of Big Walnut Creek make this a very special place.

“The additions were significant not just for the scenic views and the hemlock value as a refugia,” says Bill, “but also for making the preserve more sustainable.”

Another highlight was protecting Twin Swamps in Posey County. The organization almost turned down the chance, intimidated by the proposed size of the preserve. At 800 acres, it would have been 10 times as large as any property TNC of Indiana had ever protected. By starting with a small segment and working from there, Len, Bill, and the group were able to save the iconic swamplands.

Bill also remembers offering quarterly trips to TNC’s special places, which Len invariably helped host.

One memorable outing was through the steep terrain of Brown County’s Hitz-Rhodehamel Nature Preserve. The trail proved challenging for the group, which was largely made up of retirees.

Bill says, “I remember him helping people at the end of hike. Everyone was just exhausted, but he helped the stragglers finish the hike.”

Len’s professionalism made him a key ally, and Bill credits him with a significant role in setting the group up for success. He set high standards and ambitious goals. Time after time, he was the one in the room making pivotal contributions to strategic discussions.

And as a partner at a prestigious Indianapolis law firm (Ice Miller), Len was able to raise the profile of the work. Bill recalls, “His commitment showed people it was a legitimate cause and a legitimate organization that they ought to be part of.”

“He was very steady, and obviously a man committed to conservation in Indiana,” Bill notes. “Can you imagine working on conservation in Indiana as he did for more than 40 years as a volunteer? That itself speaks of someone who had a really deep feeling for this.”

Yet Len was always understated, modest to a fault, and measured in word and deed.

On a personal level, Bill (like many) saw Len as an important mentor. “Let’s just say that if I had a difficult decision to make, Len would have been one of two or three people that I would talk to, and I always got good advice. Some people give you a command type of advice—that was never his way.”

Instead, Len would offer a few perspectives on your dilemma, says Bill. “And you went away feeling that he had confidence that you could make the decision.

We join with Bill and the entire conservation community in mourning the loss of this trusted friend.

Read more about Len Betley’s legacy in our spring newsmagazine, available online here.

Up next: A dear friend’s remembrances 

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.