by Faith Van Gilder
[Editor’s note | This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 ACRES Quarterly. Updates are published below.]
Although Josie has lived on the west coast for more than 40 years, her roots in east-central Indiana run deep. She grew up as an only child in Muncie, and her father died when she was 7. On long drives to Madison, Indiana, to visit relatives, Josie observed the forests, rivers and open spaces, and her mother taught her the importance of respecting nature, thriftiness, and conservation.
At Burris K-12 Laboratory School in Muncie, one of Josie’s favorite teachers was Ruth Dutro, who taught biology. Josie earned a bachelor’s degree at Ball State University, then majored in art history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where in 1962 she met her husband, Geoff Fox. While raising four children in San Jose in 1974, they co-founded Fox Head, Inc., supplier of high-performance race apparel.
Josie’s sense of land stewardship began when they traveled to Europe in the late 1970’s to report on motocross races. She was impressed by the landscape restoration in the town of Norge, Holland: before the race, the site was a pristine soccer field; after the race, workers restored it to its former condition.
The Foxes sold their company in 2014 and now have time to travel regularly back to the Midwest. “We share a deep sense of gratitude for the natural areas of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana,” Josie said.
“ACRES caught my eye during trips to Indiana over 20 years ago, and this has evolved into a mentorship. ACRES’ programs are outstanding! Their pipeline of information to members is always high-quality. As a result of my ongoing interaction with ACRES staff, I feel confident asking how to carry out tasks on local, regional and state topics. ACRES oversees projects from start to finish, providing in-house and outside research and planning to create the big picture.”
While Josie was visiting Muncie in 2009, a commercial real estate sign posted on a 16-acre woodlot on West Kilgore Avenue presented the chance to save the site as an urban woods. In 2012, the Foxes purchased the property and gifted it to Red-Tail Land Conservancy, naming it Dutro Woods in honor of Josie’s biology teacher. Two years later, Dutro Woods grew by 15 acres, thanks to a gift from Karen Ernst and Augie da Silva, with support from the Bicentennial Nature Trust and Indiana Heritage Trust. Dutro-Ernst Woods is now Muncie’s largest nature preserve. Josie says her vision is “to restore the 31-acre property with hiking trails, parking, signage for wildlife habitat and education, and a restored woods and native prairie.”
In 2015 the Foxes gave a major donation to enable ACRES Land Trust to purchase Spring Lake Woods and Bog on Lake Everett, Allen County’s only natural lake. The preserve’s biodiversity includes four-toed salamanders, six-foot tall cinnamon ferns, and cypress knee-sedge.
The Foxes had viewed aerial photos showing urban expansion from Fort Wayne heading toward the site. Mindful of the opportunity to protect lakeside land, they hiked the site with Jason Kissel, executive director and Heather Barth, director of fund development, who answered their many questions.
“As we departed, I observed a settlement of cabins nestled near Lake Everett,” recalls Josie. “It was a quiet, remote scene that I hoped was destined to remain low profile. The idea of urban sprawl encroachment on natural areas reinforces my commitment to land conservation. As we familiarize ourselves with open space, we learn to value our native oaks, maples and shrubs protected from commercial development. It’s up to us as stewards of the land to lessen the negative impact of climate change,” she says.
“Land conservation is people-friendly—we all need natural trails for hiking, viewing wildlife, and learning the natural history of plants.”
Recently, the Foxes returned to northeast Indiana to accept the Robert Cooper Audubon Society’s 2017 Robert H. and Esther L. Cooper Conservation Award, the chapter’s highest honor, for overall contributions to, conservation of, and appreciation for the natural environment.
In her note to ACRES on the occasion, Josie concludes: “As you know, I’m a big fan of greening-up by preserving ecological systems for wildlife habitat, as a deterrent to global warming and to combat pollution in our increasingly congested urban lifestyle.”