Posted by: Reena Ramos

  • 05/11/2017

Federal Judge William Lee preserves conservation legacy: Lee Family Perfect Lake Nature Preserve

Federal Judge William Lee protected his land with ACRES. Photo provided by Judge Lee.

Preserving his conservation legacy, ACRES member and local civic leader U.S. Federal Judge William Lee has permanently protected 84 acres of breathtaking Steuben County landscape with ACRES. The Lee Family Perfect Lake Nature Preserve forever extends Judge Lee’s 50-year history of helping protect land.

“I’m motivated by this whole concept of doing something perpetual, permanent, of something that lasts,” says Judge Lee. “Especially in today’s culture. Forever? That’s pretty neat.”

“ACRES promises never to sell or develop this land,” says executive director Jason Kissel. “ACRES members help us stand by the promise our founders made in 1960: together, we will protect this place for good.”

Judge Lee’s own “forever” story dovetails with ACRES’ history: “I knew your founders. I was well-acquainted with Jim Barrett,” says Judge Lee. “He wrote the Nature Preserve Act that protects what you do.”

Judge Lee joined ACRES in 1967, the same year the Indiana legislature passed the Act that Barrett wrote. He purchased the Steuben County property in early 1970, a few months before he was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, and only weeks before the first Earth Day.

“I knew people would be in my office wanting to prosecute water polluters,” he says. “At the time, there was no Environmental Protection Agency, so I devised a sort of Rube Goldberg plan, a system for prosecution. I set forth steps to put together evidence, investigative guidelines based on the Refuse Act of 1899, and it worked.”

Judge Lee’s work won three cases, defeating U.S. Steel, DuPont, and a local refinery. His efforts earned him the Izaak Walton League of America National Conservation Award in 1972. He suspects Tom and Jane Dustin, two of ACRES founders, and active “Ikes” leaders, nominated him for the award.

“The Perfect Lake land was a personal retreat for renewing my spirits.”
Judge Lee enjoyed walking, cutting brush, mowing, maintaining his personal trail, sometimes fishing (mostly bass), and observing from “little interesting spots along seasonal streams.”

“The place is an environmental wonder in terms of diversity,” says Judge Lee.
An upland forest surrounds an esker running the preserve’s length; both overlook a small lake, a high quality fen, a sedge meadow, and a marl flat.

He’s seen a couple fox, plenty of wild turkeys and quail, many deer and he’s watched swans from a neighboring pond visit Perfect Lake. Once, while out walking, he scared off a coyote.

“One of the most interesting things I saw was a beautiful Ring-necked Pheasant. And I watched a Bald Eagle catch a 10 – 12 inch bass it could barely handle, then struggle to fly off with it. I remember coming upon baby beavers swimming around. When their mother saw me, she circled, slapped her tail on the water, and they all disappeared – slick as a whistle.”

“Through Steuben County Soil and Water Conservation District publications, I became aware of the federally endangered White cat’s paw pearly mussel. I understand the only place in the world it is known to exist is the Fish Creek watershed, of which my lake is the headwaters.”

“You know, it’s interesting that land can just ‘be there,’ not be cluttered up,” says Judge Lee. To ACRES members, he adds, “I admire very much what you’re up to.”

Judge Lee protected his land with ACRES through a significant bargain sale. The Bicentennial Nature Trust and Steuben County Community Foundation provided additional funding. Lee Family Perfect Lake Nature Preserve is closed to the public.


Esker: a long, winding gravel ridge deposited by retreating glacial meltwaters.

Fen: a unique type of wetland, usually at the bottom of a hill, just before a body of water. Fens occur above dry soil, but because of a steady supply of ground water, they become “springy” wetlands, supporting wetland and prairie plants.

Headwaters: the source waters of a river or stream.

Marl: unconsolidated or broken-up rock or soil made of clay and lime.

Sedge meadows: seasonally wet places dominated by grass-like plants called sedges and usually found between hilly land (uplands) and bodies of water.