Shumard Oak at Meltzer Woods

Forest that existed before Columbus came to America to be preserved for public enjoyment

Meltzer Woods in Shelby County was state’s last unprotected old-growth forest

SHELBYVILLE, IND. (November 5, 2014) – The Indiana Bicentennial Nature Trust has provided the leadership gift allowing the Central Indiana Land Trust Inc. (CILTI) to buy and forever protect and preserve Indiana’s last unprotected old-growth forest, Meltzer Woods.

“Meltzer Woods is a very special place,” said CILTI Executive Director Cliff Chapman. “There aren’t many places where Hoosiers can visit and see huge old trees that predate Indiana’s statehood and in this case, the birth of our nation.”

By definition, old-growth forests include trees more than 150 years old and have been relatively undisturbed for a century. Located 35 minutes from downtown Indianapolis, Meltzer Woods will open to the public in 2016 for hiking and enjoying nature.

While the Bicentennial Nature Trust provided $274,000 to CILTI, other major contributors are The Herbert Simon Family Foundation ($60,500), Blue River Community Foundation ($30,000), Indiana Heritage Trust ($14,000) and the Meltzer Family, who offered the property well below market price along with a gift of $10,000.

Those contributions allowed CILTI to purchase 60 acres from Phil Meltzer, who was born and grew up in a house on the property, and his children.

“We are forever indebted to Phil Meltzer and his family,” said Chapman. “Their stewardship of the land for more than 157 years and their generosity in selling it at well below market price will ensure that it is protected from future development.”

The Meltzer family have owned this parcel since 1857, when John Frederick Meltzer, Phil’s great-grandfather, bought 160 acres of farm land. Over the years, the family added to the property, putting together a 280-acre farming operation where, today, Phil Meltzer and his son-in-law farm soybeans and corn – except on the stand of ancient timber that the family has left virtually untouched for generations. It’s a short walk from the house where Phil was born in 1926.

In 1928, Phil’s father, Brady Meltzer registered the land as part of Indiana’s Classified Forest Program, meaning he agreed not to graze livestock among the trees. In 1945, the land came to the attention of conservationists as the family cooperated with a Butler University study. Over the next few decades, Meltzer Woods continued to be watched and studied. Trees on the property were regularly cited as “state champions.”

In 1973, Meltzer Woods was designated a National Natural Landmark. In 1999, Chapman, who was then an ecologist with the Indiana Division of Nature Preserves, visited the site for the first time – and was immediately smitten and became dedicated to preserving what had already been identified as one of the state’s few remaining old-growth forests.

Chapman continued his connection to the property over the years, and has worked since joining the Land Trust on efforts to ensure its long-term protection. In 2008, the Land Trust’s relationship with the Meltzer family led to a stewardship agreement allowing the Land Trust to work to combat invasives and maintain the forest. Hundreds of volunteers have spent time on the land, Chapman says, having considerable success in controlling the invasive winter creeper and garlic mustard that threatened the character of the woods.

The Bicentennial Nature Trust is a statewide project of the Bicentennial Commission. It aims to expand trails, conservation areas and recreation sites to help celebrate Indiana’s 200 years of statehood in 2016. Indiana’s state park system was created during the state centennial celebration in 1916, and the BNT is meant to provide a similar conservation legacy.

The state obligated $20 million for BNT projects, and the Lilly Endowment contributed a further $10 million to the effort. Money from the fund is matched no less than $1:1 with the local project sponsor. To date, the Bicentennial Commission has approved 104 projects, 48 of which are complete resulting in the protection of more than 8 square miles.  For more information, visit

Jen Schmits Thomas

Media Relations

An award-winning communicator and recognized leader in Central Indiana’s public relations community, Jen helps us tell our story in the media. She is the founder of JTPR, which she and her husband John Thomas own together.