Posted by: Reena Ramos

  • 07/02/2019

We’re so much more: seeing beyond ACRES trails

Each time ACRES acquires a new property, we send “preserve postcards” to our members. Like birth announcements, the postcards welcome new land to our trust and thank our members for making this work possible. It’s a fun way to celebrate our newly protected places with our supporters.

Recently, a few ACRES members and preserve enthusiasts have asked to see these newly acquired places firsthand. They ask: when will ACRES put in new trails? More generally speaking, it seems a number of folks see trails as our work’s end-goal.

Some people see our nonprofit as a trail provider, expecting that each time we acquire land, we’ll be adding a trail. This is not what we’re all about, but it’s what many people are most familiar with because much of our work takes place out of sight.

Preserve trails give visitors a tangible encounter with ACRES. You make memories, explore, refresh and restore. You return to discover new life in all seasons. Trails leave a mark that our closed preserves and behind the scenes efforts to manage and restore land can’t. And, it’s difficult to appreciate what you don’t see or experience directly.

ACRES’ twelve founders understood this. It’s why ACRES offers over 50 trail systems open from dawn to dusk daily throughout our region. To inspire appreciation and support, ACRES shows visitors their spectacular local natural places. Nothing speaks more clearly about the value of a natural area than your own direct experience of it. From this, you can infer the value of protecting places. We offer trails to engage people in our work.

ACRES founders recognized that trails through unique natural places would help build support for our work protecting land.

That said, ACRES needs to do a better job of telling our whole story and inviting preserve visitors to join us in protecting the places they love.

“We’re in the business of preserving land in its natural state, keeping it from development, protecting the natural environment with the least amount of human disturbance,” says Joe Conrad, ACRES board member and land protection committee member. “So in one sense, trails disrupt the larger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s never been ACRES’ primary mission to provide trails for people to walk.”

We’re so much more: ACRES cares for land by eradicating non-native invasive species, reforesting by planting trees, restoring rare or unique places like remnant prairies, marl flats and quaking bogs. As a team our staff and volunteers help remove massive debris piles, picking up litter along the way. We support some pretty cool research projects. We protect incredible geologic treasures and we work tirelessly to acquire new land for permanent protection, raising funds, building relationships and ensuring strong legal support.

“Trails are not our mission,” says Conrad. “Other recreational organizations serve that goal. When we look at similar organizations, we find that some groups with an explicit mission to offer public recreation have a lower-than-ACRES ratio of trails to total land owned.”

Density of Trails by Organization

  • Local county park systems: 1 mile trail / every 50 acres
  • ACRES Land Trust: 1 mile trail / every 120 acres
  • Similarly sized land trusts in Indiana: 1 mile trail / every 177 acres
  • DNR Nature Preserves | 1 mile trail / every 334 acres

“Many local communities have invested a great deal of time and money developing multi-use trail systems for biking, walking, running and rollerblading. In August of 2017, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported nearly 3,800 miles of trails in our state. Almost 95 percent of Hoosier households live within five miles of a trail, according to the DNR. So, trail needs are being met; it is not a high priority for ACRES to create new trails when our resources can be more wisely spent achieving our core mission of protecting land.”

– Dawn Ritchie, ACRES board member, Land Management and Protection committee chair and Greenways & Trails Manager for the City of Fort Wayne

By all means, enjoy the trails ACRES members make available. And then, join us. The ACRES mission is big. Protecting, restoring and managing local land forever requires focus, commitment and renewing support from an ever-growing circle of people.

ACRES accepts this responsibility to protect land forever and invites you to see beyond the trails – to take action for the places you love.

Update: This since this article originally ran, ACRES began its Raising Our Standards initiative and has reduced the number of trails on its properties from 50 to 32.


Mike Habeck - November 21, 2020 - 8:16 pm

I see in the latest quarterly that ACRES plans to phase out trail systems at more than twenty preserves over the next several years. Does ACRES plan to announce the identities of those preserves in advance? Either way, thanks for all you do.

Bridgett Hernandez - November 23, 2020 - 5:27 pm

Hi, Mike. Thanks for your comment. You can find a list of visitor amenity projects as well as trail systems slated for retirement at https://acreslandtrust.org/raisingourstandards/. We don't yet have an exact date for when these trails will be phased out over the next four years, but we'll try to give members as much notice as possible. We'll continue to share updates on our website and in the Quarterly.