Oak Heritage Conservancy asked for help this summer.
“We wanted to make sure that we are doing things that the community wants,” said Judy Rust, Oak Heritage board member and Greensburg resident.
The group’s summer intern, Nolan Wicks, put together the online survey, and then asked for input. They hoped that perhaps 50 people would take time to fill out the 12 questions, but 121 people from all across southeast Indiana responded. They included housewives, teachers, construction workers, attorneys, waitresses, a pharmacist, and many others. Most (85%) were not members of Oak Heritage.
“We were so encouraged by the survey,” says Rust. “This was an informal survey, but the message was clear: All sorts of people from all across southeast Indiana want us to host events outside, in nature – and they want us to protect special places.”
Oak Heritage is a local nonprofit that creates nature preserves around southeast Indiana, and hosts programs that get people outside in nature. They are one of 1,200 “land trusts” in the country – and one of about 26 in Indiana.
Over 85 percent of people said that they want Oak Heritage to conserve unique places for the public and for wildlife, places like old growth forests, wetlands, creeks and waterfalls, and pollinator habitat. So far, the group has protected over 900 acres of habitat like this. Most of that land has been donated to the group over the last 15 years.
“Property owners get in touch and say, ‘I love this place. It’s special to my family. I want to make sure it’s always a forest or a healthy creek or a wetland,’” says Liz Brownlee, Executive Director of Oak Heritage. “We spend time getting to know the landowner and the land, and then we work together to protect it as a natural area, for forever.”
“The survey made it clear: community members want us to keep working hard on land conservation.”
The group also works to connect people to nature. They have always hosted a few hikes and nature walks each year, but recently, Oak Heritage has been putting more energy into nature events. Last year, they hosted over 20 events for the public: scavenger hunts, butterfly walks, photo contests, and hikes.
“Hosting events takes a ton of time – but it’s so rewarding to see kids finding fossils and holding butterflies,” says Brownlee. “We knew we valued this work, but we wanted to make sure that folks thought this was worth our energy and that we were hosting programs that the community wants.”
Over 80 person of people said that these hands-on events in nature are “Important” or “Very Important.”
Last but not least, the survey asked what people wanted Oak Heritage to provide more of. They provided six options, from afterschool programs to guided hikes and beyond.
The top answers were “More trails on Oak Heritage preserves” and “easy parking at the preserves.”
“Now we know how to make our preserves more welcoming to visitors,” says Rust. “That’s incredibly helpful.”
The group also knows how to get some of that work done: several respondents indicated that they would like to start volunteering with Oak Heritage, or become members. Members join for $25 per year, and help fund conservation work in southeast Indiana.
A Madison restaurant, the Off Broadway Taproom, donated a $25 gift certificate to entice people to fill out the survey. One respondent was selected at random. The winner is being mailed the gift certificate this week.
The next Oak Heritage Conservancy events include a Monarch Butterfly tagging event on Sept. 15 at their Monarch Meadows Nature Preserve and their Annual Dinner, where guests can enjoy a “nature-themed night out,” complete with fine dining, time to connect with other nature lovers, and a presentation about the natural history of the Ohio River. Tickets are on sale now, at www.oakheritageconservancy.org/join.