The Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve by Thomas Sprunger
To date, long-time ACRES member and volunteer Dick Loney has seen roughly 467 nature preserves in Indiana. He’s also spent plenty of time on home turf, helping tend ACRES preserves. What comes of a lifetime quest—an insatiable curiosity for seeing and protecting natural Indiana firsthand? Where does one begin?
“It was the 1950s. We always explored as kids. Woods, streams, these were much more open in those days. The Yellow Creek off the South Branch Elkhart River was my home creek. It was all swirls and swimming holes with rope swings. We spent all our time there when we weren’t farming.” He started hiking when he was about 12 and along the way, made friends with the same interests.
“I was darn close to [being a] charter ACRES member. I saw the clippings for Spurgeon [ACRES’ first preserve]. I’d been there quite often before it was a preserve. I had friends who lived nearby who’d taken me for walks there, with permission, of course.”
“You know, I’ve been exploring with friends long enough that I’ve seen many places before they became nature preserves. The first preserve in Indiana— Pine Hills Nature Preserve, I used to practice rock climbing there.” [Pine Hills Nature Preserve is located within Shades State Park, west of Indianapolis. It is protected by Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources.]
Loney keeps two binders: one with a master list of where he’s been, and one with a page for each place he’s visited or driven by (he drives by closed preserves in winter when he can see into them). From his explorations, he records his general impressions: “No botanical assessments. A layman’s view.” He also keeps a bucket list by county, in case he’s headed nearby.
As a young adult, Loney worked for GTE as a lineman. “With gobs of overtime traveling. I’d stop in preserves along the way. It was a natural extension of my youth.” He later retired from the company after working in loss recovery, a position that also offered significant travel time.
Today, people call on Loney for advice on what to see when they’re heading across the state. He shares his experience: “Don’t try to see the juncture of the Ohio and Wabash. You just can’t see it. There’s no vista.” The state’s largest spring? “Forget it. It’s on the map but there’s no trespassing, and they mean it.”
Years ago, Loney volunteered with ACRES as a Preserve Steward, mowing, trimming and caring for our Wells County and Huntington preserves. “I used to be out every day, before my wife, Jean, developed Alzheimer’s disease.” He spent two years removing Japanese Bush Honeysuckle from Anna Brand Hammer. He was on the verge of total success when he suffered a stroke and a heart attack.
Today he continues to volunteer, now as a Trail Monitor, keeping an eye on and reporting on trails at Blue Cast Springs, Anna Brand Hammer, Munro, Maumee Overlook, and Acres Along the Wabash.
Favorite places? Loney has many. “The Kankakee Sands are one of my favorites. You’ve got to see the prairie wildflowers.”
Favorite ACRES preserves? “Cedar Creek. No matter where you are, it’s really great. I’d say the same for Steuben County preserves, Ropchan Wildlife Refuge. Anna Brand Hammer is really great for flowers. It’s unexpected, but just great.”
His walks have given rise to Loney’s vision for ACRES, for preservation: “I see a lot of potential places worthy of protection in Kosciusko County. Lots of wetlands and rivers that wander through.”
“My dream for ACRES overall is corridors—connecting protected land and saving more glacial features before they all get developed.”