The Natural Bloomington Blog


I knew when we headed west from the Blackwell Horse Camp on the Grubb Ridge Trail Saturday that any photo ops would most likely be nearly 2.5 miles from the trailhead, in the creek valley, where Grubb meets the Hayes Trail.

I wasn't interested in stopping on the first three quarters of a mile or so, which parallels Tower Ridge Road and State Road 446, both of which were humming with traffic on a sunny, 70-degree February day. The sound of rubber on the road isn't my idea of a wilderness experience. And in February, there's just not much color or life in the Southern Indiana woods, except in the seasonal creeks.

I am pleased to announce that Natural Bloomington is moving into the video age. I've newly revived the Natural Bloomington YouTube Channel and posted an admittedly rookie EcoVid effort from my Jan. 29 hike in the Deam Wilderness. Indeed, it looks like video will be an increasingly prominent tool of creative expression around here, at least for awhile.

This 3-minute video from the Deam’s Cope Hollow Trail isn't truly a rookie effort. I've shot, edited and produced digital movie projects before, and my students create slide shows and short videos. Hell, I've even been paid for it. But shooting and producing moving pictures has never really captured my imagination – until now.

The Cope Hollow EcoVid is an experiment in every way. It's the first I've shot in motion on the trail, the first captured with my new Nikon D600 body and the first ever edited with Premier Pro. I deleted four worthy minutes of scenery that didn’t pass the experimental tests – blurred images, lens noise, etc.


Walking within a half mile of the Buffalo Trace on the Springs Valley Trail a couple weeks ago reminded me that I’ve never quite known when (or if) I’ve walked or driven on the actual ground that massive herds of bison trod through Southern Indiana in pre-White Man days.

Native Americans and white settlers for centuries followed the path blazed from New Albany to Vincennes by thousands of bison living between the grasslands and salt licks of Northern Kentucky and the prairies of Western Indiana and Illinois. By 1819, according to U.S. Forest Service, more than 5,000 settlers traversed the trace on their ways west. Explorers Lewis and Clark and Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison are known to have traveled on it.

I’m pretty sure I have driven on the trace. The mile I drove from State Road 37 in Orange County to the Lick Creek Trailhead on Valeene Road for my upcoming Guide to Southern Indiana Natural Areas is included in the 142-mile Buffalo Trace Loop of roadways designated as an Indiana Historic Pathway. But I am almost certain that I have not walked on it.


During the protracted debate over a federal wilderness in Indiana in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one argument against the less-than-13,000-acre Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area was that it wouldn’t be big enough. Situated within a couple hours of Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville, Indiana’s green jewel, the argument went, was vulnerable to being loved to death.

In the decade before the Deam was dedicated in 1982, environmentalists had proposed wilderness plots ranging between 32,000 acres (Nebo Ridge Wilderness Area, 1973) and 17,000 acres (Salt Creek Compromise, 1979). The last, which would have included sections of the Hoosier on Monroe Lake’s north side in Brown County, was vetoed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources because it included the Crooked Creek Marshes that the agency manages for duck hunters.

Since Congress established the Deam as a federally protected wilderness on Monroe’s south shore, east of State Road 446, their predictions have withstood the test of time.


Hoosier National Forest - Springs Valley

Sunday Morning Nature Missive - November 15, 2015

The Orange County woods were the province of the deer hunter on Saturday. It was the first day of shotgun season, and I kept my distance during an afternoon in the Hoosier National Forest five miles or so southwest of Paoli. I walked  the road by the 141-acre Springs Valley Lake between the campground and boat ramp. And I ventured a couple hundred yards or so on the Springs Valley Trail, clad in my blaze-orange jacket, of course.

I suggested to a father-son pair, who had canoed across the lake in search of the elusive white tail with no success, that they should come to Bloomington, where, on a weekly basis, I see up to five at a time in my back yard in the Bryan Park Neighborhood. I also learned that hunters wheel their take out of the woods. They don't drag it.


Hoosier National Forest - Hickory Ridge Trail
Sunday Morning Nature Missive - Nov. 8, 2015

Among the reasons I chose two horse trails to hike the past week was one of self protection. Bow season for white-tail deer began last Sunday. And while I have a blaze orange jacket, the noise and activity of horse riders offered an extra layer of protection against stray arrowheads. (Firearms season starts next Sunday.)

Another is that that I've explored neither the stretch of Grubb Ridge Trail in the Deam Wilderness due east of the Blackwell Horse Camp nor the Hickory Ridge Trail at the Hickory Ridge Horse Camp, both situated in the back country where Monroe, Lawrence and Jackson Counties meet. Back in 1980, when I hiked what was then called the Hickory Ridge Hiking Trail through the Deam, the northern stretch followed a much different path.

Yet another is they're both part of the Hoosier National Forest, the focus of my latest book project, envisioned as a coffee table book at this early stage titled, simply, The Hoosier.


Hoosier National Forest - Buzzard RoostThe days when Hoosier National Forest timber gleamed supreme in the eyes of U.S. Forest Service land managers seem to have been relegated to the fading pages of history. But when timber barons in Bedford did call the shots, they envisioned chainsaws everywhere.
When Forest Supervisor Harold Godlevske released the Hoosier’s first federally required management plan in 1981, it called for four-fifths of the public land’s verdant hills and valleys to eventually be clearcut on plots up to 30 acres. Godlevske’s predecessor Claude Ferguson once described that management style as “drawing circles on maps.”
“It makes it easy to go for coffee,” he said early in the 11-year war the ’81 clearcutting plan precipitated. “But it’s not forestry.”


In the time it took to zip and lace my hiking pants and boots, Saturday’s sky transformed from gleaming azure to a drizzling gray. But given that in the past three weeks I’ve performed just about every role I play except photographer – lecturer, author, carpenter, newsletter editor, blogger and, of course, grandpa – I was going to the woods, weather be damned, camera bag on the passenger-side floor.

As I approached Hunter’s Creek Road in northern Lawrence County south of the Monroe Lake causeway, beneath a black squall, I’d accepted the afternoon would entail a drive around the south end of the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area and not a photo hike through it. Not ideal, but I’d never actually followed that route from State Road 446 to the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower, and the drive did not involve typing, reading or sawing.

Less than mile from the trailhead, on a road so narrow that one local stopped to allow me to pass (unnecessary but telling), I emerged from the forest canopy into a broad, open, partially sun-drenched valley and noticed a dollop of sky blue to the northwest. I turned around in the Hunter’s Creek Pentecostal Church lot, drove back to the trailhead, and by the time I finished my sesame sticks and fig bars, my windshield had stopped watering up.



Organizationally speaking, Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas’s decisions must satisfy broad goals set by the President and Congress, which, respectively, oversee and fund the U.S. Forest Service. In terms of details like how, when and where those directives are satisfied, his “marching orders” come from the agency’s national and regional offices.

But the American people – and not just those in Southern Indiana – own the 202,000 acres of wooded landscape that Chaveas and his staff oversee. And, when it comes to day-to-day and year-to-year management decisions on recreation, preservation, wildlife, habitat restoration, logging and other concerns, theirs are the opinions he needs the most.

“It’s public land,” he said during a July 17 interview in his Bedford office. “… We want them to let us know how they feel. We want them to let us know what they want from their forest.”


The Hoosier National Forest may or may not be the smallest in the nation. Ditto the most fragmented. But depending the persepctive, both are true. And that presents unique challenges for those who manage the 202,000 acres of public land that stretches from the shores of Monroe Lake near Bloomington to the Ohio River at Tell City.

“It’s complicated is the short answer,” Hoosier Supervisor Mike Chaveas said during a July 17 interview at his office in Bedford. The extensive boundary lines and overall “chunked up” nature of the Hoosier (and other forests in the U.S. Forest Service’s Eastern Region) creates complexity for forest managers.

“The Hoosier National Forest, it’s maybe not the most fragmented,” he said. “But it’s pretty close to being the most fragmented national forest in the whole system, across the country.”


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