Nature preserve boundary sign at Betley Woods

The Nature of a Preserve

What makes a nature preserve? And if a nature preserve is not state-dedicated, is it really a nature preserve? It sure is!

A nature preserve is a natural area that is managed so as to protect high-quality characteristics: its flora, fauna, physical features like unique geology, and even aesthetic values.

Nature preserves can be owned by the government or by private landowners, including land trusts, schools and universities, and city parks and recreation departments. Nature preserves are not automatically public land, and they may not be open to the public at all.

A piece of land that bears the title “nature preserve” does not always have governmental protections, either. But one way for nature preserves in Indiana to be protected in perpetuity is to have them state-dedicated. For a preserve to be dedicated, there must be an agreement between the landowner, Department of Natural Resources, and the Natural Resources Commission.

Dedication allows the DNR to manage and protect the nature preserve from “development which would harm its natural character.”

DNR nature preserves that are open to the public typically have pedestrian trails and are open from dawn to dusk. Some state-dedicated nature preserves may only be accessible for activities such as scientific research, requiring a special permit. Either way, it is illegal to disturb or remove anything from a state-dedicated nature preserve without the proper permits. This allows nature to flourish within the nature preserve boundaries.

There is also a notable distinction between parks and nature preserves. The primary goal of a nature preserve is to protect biodiversity and ecological functions. A park’s primary purpose is human recreation.

Parks are purchased and developed to be recreational spaces. Here you might find manicured lawns and amenities devoted to active recreation: playgrounds, soccer fields, and skate parks.

Nature preserves, on the other hand, are pre-existing natural areas. If they are open to the public, they are designed for passive recreation like walking your leashed dog on a trail or birdwatching. You certainly won’t find a baseball diamond in a nature preserve! (However, you can sometimes find a nature preserve within the confines of a park, such as the state-dedicated Warbler Woods Nature Preserve at Fort Harrison State Park.)

There are more than 290 state-dedicated nature preserves in Indiana, including CILTI’s Meltzer Woods, Burnett Woods, the Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow, Fred and Dorothy Meyer Nature Preserve, and Betley Woods at Glacier’s End.

No matter where you go to enjoy the great outdoors, please recreate responsibly and safely. We hope to see lots of you out trekking our trails this year!

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.