Posted by: Elijah Stewart

  • 11/06/2023

Acquisition: Conley Woods Nature Preserve

ACRES recently acquired Conley Woods Nature Preserve, a 100-acre property in Elkhart County, Indiana. This land was previously protected by Trillium Land Conservancy (TLC), a land trust founded in 2001 by a group of volunteers when no other land trust covered Elkhart and several other north-central counties. Prior to TLC’s ownership, The Nature Conservancy in Indiana owned the property.

“We are grateful to Trillium Land Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy for their hard work and are committed to continuing protecting and conserving this valuable property as its final owner,” said Jason Kissel, ACRES executive director.

The property features rolling topography dominated by black and white oak trees with an understory dominated by flowering dogwood and spicebush. The herbaceous layer is composed largely of sandy/gravelly soil-loving plants, American columbo and poke milkweed, to name a few. Several slopes give way to depressional wetlands that are home to buttonbush, swamp-rose and multiple sedges. This property offers a unique mosaic of plant communities not often found within ACRES service area.

Remnants of rare plants have persisted, such as the downy rattlesnake orchid, ground cedar and pipsissewa. Invasive species management, forest stand improvement and prescribed fire will all be reintroduced to the preserve in the coming years. Through these stewardship activities, ACRES hopes to restore the plant communities back to a higher level of biodiversity.

ACRES is assisting TLC in its dissolution process — we’ve helped several land trusts start over the years, but this is our first opportunity to help a land trust end in a responsible manner.

“Being an all-volunteer agency with no staff had its challenges,” said Ronda DeCaire, former TLC board member. “When ACRES announced in 2008 that it would begin covering Elkhart County, and later when Shirley Heinze Land Trust covered St. Joseph County, TLC became inactive. Having land trusts with qualified staff to grow memberships and provide stewardship of the land offers a better opportunity for land protection. TLC board members were happy and confident to partner with ACRES to continue the protection of the Conley property.”