Photo by Emily Schwank

Land Trust closes deal to buy final 3.1 acres from Highland Country Club

February 6, 2020

Unique hanging garden to attract butterflies at White River Bluffs nature preserve

The Central Indiana Land Trust Inc. (CILTI) has closed on its final purchase of land from Highland Golf and Country Club, which means the land-conservation organization can proceed with plans to open White River Bluffs Nature Preserve in 2021.

The $2.9 million effort establishing White River Bluffs will preserve forever 12.2 wooded acres along the White River and adjacent to the club that was established in 1919.

Located east of Michigan Road between 56th and 52nd streets along the river, White River Bluffs features some of the oldest trees in Indianapolis growing on a steep bluff above the river. Bald eagles frequent the area and nest nearby. The result of gravel deposited by glaciers 12,000 years ago, the new preserve’s delicate slopes represent a unique geologic feature in the city. It offers stunning views of the downtown skyline and a perspective that makes Hinkle Fieldhouse look almost like a boat floating in a sea of trees.

“This project has attracted more donors and partners than any of our preserves to date because of its unique location, features and potential,” said Cliff Chapman, executive director of the Central Indiana Land Trust. “More than 90 donors from all over the U.S. acknowledged this special area and saw the importance of preserving the land as a natural area.”

CILTI is working on plans for a trail and an 80-foot-tall hanging garden that will provide host plants and nectar sources for butterflies. With thousands of milkweed plants, little bluestem, prickly pear cactus, purple coneflower, blazing star, rattlesnake master and violets, the hanging garden will attract such butterflies as monarchs and black swallowtails.

“We visualize thousands of butterflies fluttering above the White River every summer,” added Chapman.

Highland had considered selling to a developer for a residential project, but the club has worked closely with CILTI to find a use that will best serve the community for generations.

“We’re thrilled to have a nature preserve adjacent to our club. Since entering into this partnership with CILTI, the Highland Golf and Country Club has done nothing but grow,” said Greg Sabens, director of membership and club operations at Highland Golf and Country Club. “We found a way to work together with our community to create something we can all share and will benefit us at Highland as well as provide public access to some of the best views in the city of Indianapolis from on top of those bluffs.”

Negotiations began in 2015, then CILTI purchased part of the land a year later. Since then, CILTI completed an erosion-control project and has begun work to remove invasive species from the property. The new acreage will be part of the restoration vision of the preserve and was necessary for a loop trail.

Donors to this project include the following.

Amos W. Butler Audubon Society
Central Indiana Community Foundation
Christel DeHaan Family Foundation
Highland Kessler Civic League
Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, Inc.
Jungclaus-Campbell Co. Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc.
Nicholas H. Noyes, Jr. Memorial Foundation, Inc.
Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust
SPM Foundation, Inc.
Sutphin Fund, a fund of the Indianapolis Foundation
The McKee Foundation
Members of the Central Indiana Land Trust

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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.