Retiring Trails: Patching Together Refuge
Written by Chris Fairfield, ACRES Volunteer
Each day people traveling on the Indiana Toll Road and Highway 827 rush by Ropchan Wildlife Refuge with minimal time to appreciate the natural setting Sam and Adeline Ropchan envisioned and provided for in this corner acreage.
This glacially sculpted refuge bordering and overlooking the 1879 Lakeside Cemetery includes flowing waterways. Its upland oak-hickory mixed mesophytic forest and lowland swamp forest provide a necessary island of varied habitat to some of Northern Indiana’s most beautiful and endangered flora and fauna. Vital to all, the Ropchan Wildlife Refuge is also part of the Clear Lake-Fawn River sub-watershed and the Greater St. Joseph River-Lake Michigan Watershed. While there are many places to stop, observe, and contemplate the interacting land and residents today, this was not always the case.
What later became Ropchan Wildlife Refuge was, for many years, a complicated puzzle of multi-purposed, private parcels. But Sam and Adeline Ropchan imagined stewardship of the whole. They believed in the words of Chief Seattle: “All things are connected.” The Ropchans engaged ACRES Land Trust to piece together the preserve by negotiating with individual landowners. Together, they connected the Penner, Skelton, Huss, Wilkins, Carpenter and Smith family parcels. This combination of donations and purchases extended from 1976 to 1982. Indiana approved a Master Plan and dedicated the ACRES land on May 14, 1977. Under the terms of the Wetlands Preservation Act, a Cooperative Management Plan was established between ACRES Land Trust, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and The Nature Conservancy.
The trail system at the Ropchan Wildlife Refuge is slated for retirement, closing to the public December 31, 2023, as part of ACRES comprehensive plan to update visitor amenities.