Sugar Creek to Become State Protected

Sugar Creek to Become State Protected
Journal Review
by Tina McGrady

Gov. Mitch Daniels predicted this week that Indiana will become a wildlife-filled tourist destination.

Daniels announced Thursday the acquisition of a 43,000-acre swath of west-central Indiana flood plains. He said the state would begin by acquiring acreage in the flood plains of the Wabash River and Sugar Creek in west-central Indiana.

That flood-prone land stretches 94 river miles across four counties from Shades State Park near Crawfordsville to the Fairbanks Landing Fish & Wildlife Area south of Terre Haute.

On Friday, Daniels announced a second project that targets more than 25,600 acres along the Muscatatuck River known as Muscatatuck Bottoms in Scott, Jackson and Washington counties.

Together, the combined acreage of the two habitat conservation areas will be the largest project ever undertaken by the state Department of Natural Resources, Daniels said.

“We’re out to create something of lasting and large importance for our state and protect its natural beauty,” Daniels said. “With these projects, we aim to make Indiana a destination point for waterfowl, a destination point for tourists, and to become a national leader in wetlands and wildlife protection.”

Land acquisition for the two separate projects from willing sellers will be funded by $21.5 million from a state conservation trust fund. Another $10 million will come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Additional support will come from The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group based in Memphis, Tenn.

The wetlands restoration and preservation projects will become attractive regional tourist destinations by protecting habitat vital to threatened and endangered species and safeguarding rest areas for migratory birds, particularly waterfowl, he said.

Daniels said the projects would also provide flood relief to nearby landowners because wetlands act as natural sponges to absorb floodwaters.

The Sugar Creek and Wabash River corridors harbor a rich mix of Indiana's rarest fish, mussels, birds and plants, and offer nesting sites for bald eagles and great blue herons.

Those lands are also populated by the Canada yew, Eastern hemlock and white pine — all ice age remnants now rare in Indiana.

“It’s a win-win for the people and the ecosystem,” said Nathan Mullendore, watershed projects coordinator with the Friends of Sugar Creek.

Mullendore said that part of Sugar Creek is heavily forested and always threatened by development or the harvesting of timber.

“With the designation there won’t be timber harvested or the threat of housing developments,” he said.

The planned Wabash River wetlands area is expected to be larger than the combined size of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest and Brown County State Park. And it will increase DNR-owned riparian wetland areas by more than 64 percent.

Muscatatuck Bottoms contains the largest least fragmented complex of bottomland forest remaining in Indiana. The forest is characterized by several species of oak, hickory and sweet gum.

The site provides habitat for a number of species of conservation concern, including such birds as the least bittern, yellow-crowned night heron, red-shouldered hawk and Cerulean warbler.

Two state-endangered reptiles, the Kirtland’s snake and copperbelly watersnake, also are found there, as is featherfoil, a state-endangered plant.

“This restoration project will help ensure the landscapes and communities that make Indiana great will thrive for generations to come,” said Mark Tercek, CEO and president of The Nature Conservancy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.