Posted by: Bridgett Hernandez

  • 02/25/2021

Volunteers digitize preserve records

When ACRES acquires new property, we become steward of both the land and its records. These files include everything from legal documents, like deeds and wills, to artifacts like newspaper clippings and handwritten notes.

Two ACRES volunteers have spearheaded an effort to digitize records for all ACRES properties. Thanks to their hard work, these records and the stories they contain will be preserved forever.

Carol Spallone started volunteering with ACRES while completing service hours for the Indiana Master Naturalist Program. She began work on the preserve archive project in early 2019.

Volunteer Chris Fairfield was also interested in learning more about the history of ACRES preserves. She saw a need for more accessible records when she began volunteering as a trail leader.

“I found it cumbersome to research the donors and property details before a walk. When I heard that ACRES was thinking about digitizing its history, I hoped they would ask me to contribute,” she said.

Carol and Chris got to know one another leading a Share the Trails hike. Afterward, Carol asked Chris if she would like to work on the project together as they bring complementary skills to the project.

Carol Spallone at Lonidaw
Chris Fairfield at Madison Township School Nature Preserve

While working for Indiana State Museums, Carol completed the tour script with supportive documentation that interpretive guides continue to use for creating tours of Gene Stratton-Porter’s cabin at Wildflower Woods on Sylvan Lake.

Chris’ experience as a legal assistant/paralegal years ago familiarized her with many aspects of real estate documentation and other legal records. “This has come in handy with labeling the documents and connecting the events for explanation,” she said.

METHODICAL PROCESS

The volunteers started digitizing preserve records in August 2019. Throughout the pandemic, they have worked from home, stopping by the ACRES office to pick up and drop off files.

“My part of the team effort is to open the file and see what’s in there,” Chris said. “Each file is a new adventure into time.”

She reviews each document and labels it with a sticky note, spending three to five hours per week on the project.

Carol then scans and names the documents so they’re easy to find. “File names are to be consistent and descriptive,” she said. “With the help of a business and technology librarian at Allen County Public Library, we are using the best format for this project.”

Each file varies in size and contains up to three accordion folders filled with documents. Carol spent 17 hours digitizing the Fogwell Forest file. Some of the challenges she has encountered include digitizing faded and hand-written documents so they’re legible; making sure file names are descriptive, not too long and include appropriate abbreviations.

Carol came across this whimsical winter Quarterly cover from 1974:

Quarterly cover artist is Mrs. David K. Snyder, Angola. Bonnie has two small boys and her family enjoys camping and biking. Using dried weeds, flowers and driftwood, Bonnie creates ‘Woodland Rustics’ which she sells in the area.

PRESERVING STORIES

So far, Carol and Chris have digitized records for 10 ACRES preserves. Throughout the project, they have encountered interesting stories about these places and the people who helped protect them.

“I am encouraged and inspired by the gathering, collaboration and cooperation of donors, neighbors, fundraisers, environmental stakeholders and government agencies to save land, water and corridors,” Chris said.

Each land donor’s story is unique and wonderful, Carol said. Their motivations for protecting the land include memories of loved ones, family outdoor activities and care for the environment.

She rediscovered two fascinating legends about the Lonidaw property in Noble County in a 1982 Kendallville News-Sun article by Terry Housholder:

“In the northwest area of the woods stand the remains of an old orchard. It is said that Johnny Appleseed planted the seeds to start the orchard. The orchard, which sits atop a ridge, also contains a three-foot-long stone embedded in the dirt. Legend also says an old Indian chief used to sit on the rock and watch the wagon trains pass below.”

Digitizing our archives will make stories like these more accessible to staff, volunteers and others who want to learn the preserves’ history. This work also ensures that materials remain intact for years to come, said ACRES Office Manager, Natasha Manor.

Thank you, Carol, and thank you, Chris, for helping preserve ACRES history!

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