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Indiana fish and wildlife area draws hunters, birdwatchers
Indiana Correspondent

LINTON, Ind. — The State of Indiana purchased 8,000 acres in Greene County late last year that is being restored as close to its original state as modern times will allow.

Now called Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, the land lies south of Linton, Ind., in parts of four townships and contains Goose Pond and Beehunter marshes. It’s open to the public for bird and wildlife viewing and some hunting.

The state purchased the ground from Maurice Wilder of Wilder Farms in November. Throughout the centuries, it was tiled, ditched and drained for farming, leaving Beehunter and Goose Pond, but at one time, it was a single, large wetland called Blackwater Marsh.

Originally, it was a glacial basin teeming with waterfowl, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Now, the two wetland areas form a sort of Y shape, according to Dave Stratman of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, ultimately draining into Black Creek Ditch.

“Goose Pond and Beehunter are hydrologically connected,” he said. The IDNR is returning the ground to its natural wetland state with the assistance of several conservation partners. IDNR Wildlife Diversity Staff Specialist Kacie Ehrenberger said improvements such as utilities and infrastructure make it impossible to return the land completely to its natural state. State Road 59 was built through the middle of what used to be the main Goose Pond pool, for example.

NRCS purchased an easement for the land in 2000 for around $7 million, and it was enrolled in the Wetland Reserve Program. Since then, restoration work in the 1,200-acre Beehunter Marsh has been completed. Tiles were broken, ditches were plugged, water control structures were put into place, and other measures were taken to undo the work of farmers through the years.

The wetland can now be managed to the benefit of whatever species NRCS, IDNR and the other partners want to help. For example, Dan Luczynski, district conservationist with NRCS, said water can be added to a pool for migratory waterfowl or drawn down to mud flats for shorebirds.

“We’re seeing species we’ve never even had here before,” he said. Some bird species observed since restoration of the area began include various herons, bitterns and egrets; shorebirds such as killdeer, a variety of plovers and sandpipers, snipe and woodcocks; several types of swallows, wrens, blackbirds and orioles; all sorts of raptors, ducks, geese and swans.

“This is going to be a bird magnet,” said Mary McConnell, director of the Indiana Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, explaining that birds can see the reflection off a body of water from 50 miles away.

McConnell said migratory birds need places to stop and feed on their migration, and Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area can be managed for many different species at once.

“The property is poised to be the most important shorebird stopover in Indiana,” said Robyn Thorson, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thorson said it’s rare to be able to purchase 8,000 intact acres in the nation, let alone in one state. She said the area will be a place where people can come to observe a variety of wildlife, not just birds. She said it’s home to bats, frogs and other wildlife.

Thorson explained that two million people each year participate in wildlife-related recreation. She said that translates to $300 million in related spending that contributes to the local economy.

That’s a plus for Greene County, according to the county commissioners, even though, as Commissioner Larry Hasler pointed out, the county lost 8,000 taxable acres with the state’s purchase of the property.

“This is the best thing that could’ve happened to it,” said Commissioner President Bart Beard. “There’s some tax impact there, but in the situation we’re in, this is the best thing that could’ve happened.”

Commissioner Kathy Crouch agreed that it’s good for the county. “We would have to hope and be optimistic that tourism revenue will offset what the losses will be to the tax base,” she said. Crouch said with increased tourism, businesses may expand, or new businesses may open, adding to the tax base.

“It will first bring feathered tourists,” said Gov. Mitch Daniels, adding that the two-legged variety will follow. “Quality of life is about to take a step up.”

The governor said there are only a few things that people can do in their lifetimes that will be remembered throughout history. He said returning Goose Pond and Beehunter to wetlands is one of those. Ducks Unlimited chairman of the board, John Tomke, said the 8,000-acre purchase is a dream come true for the organization.

“We’re protecting in perpetuity what has been the dream of sportswomen and sportsmen and conservationists in Indiana for over 50 years,” he said. “Our great state has lost many of the wetlands that were here in the 19th century.”

IDNR Director Kyle Hupfer said the wetlands can be managed for both game and nongame species.

Hunters, fishermen, and wildlife watchers all will be able to enjoy the state-owned property, he said. Entry is free of charge.

“Goose Pond is an amazing package,” Hupfer said. “It’s a landmark here in southwest Indiana. From the Division of Fish and Wildlife standpoint, it’s one of a kind.

“We believe Goose Pond will be a tremendous environmental asset to the region and to the entire state.”

He said IDNR will be responsible for its management. Preliminary plans include building a boat ramp and improving access.

This farm news was published in the July 19, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.