The Natural Bloomington Blog


Mike Chaveas’s first glimpse of Southern Indiana came in the mountains of eastern Morocco. After earning a bachelor’s degree in wildlife science at Virginia Tech in 1998, the Virginia native spent two years in the Peace Corps in the eastern High Atlas Mountains. He was working as a wildlife biologist on a proposed national park when he learned about the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) masters program.

Before Africa, Chaveas (pronounced like Chavez with a short a) expected to pursue a career as a wildlife biologist.

“That was primarily my interest at the time,” the Hoosier National Forest Supervisor said during a July 17, 2015, interview at his office in Bedford, Ind.



Austin and Mary Ann Gardner Memorial WoodsI received the copyedited version of my Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana manuscript from IU Press on Friday and immediately realized I had given no thought whatsoever to an epigraph. A serious oversight, I'd say, for a book designed to motivate readers to explore and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds them.

This is my last chance to tweak the text. So, the time to add a quote or saying that expresses the book's theme is now. And, given my Sierra Club focus at this stage of life, the source for that inspiration was obvious. It had to be John Muir.

This summer I read two of his books -- The Story of My Boyhood and Youth and A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf. And next Sunday, I will be certified to lead hikes by the Sierra Club he founded in 1892. Here's the quote I've decided on, so far:


Morgan-Monroe State ForestTo say the spirits accompanied us on Friday's first Natural Bloomington Family Ecotour would understate the case dramatically.

The idea was spawned after retired Bloomington school teacher Nancy Kryway read The Herald-Times article on our ecotour with the American Council of the Blind and asked if I could lead her, husband Jim (both nature-loving history buffs) and their visiting granddaughters Emma, 14, and Ava, 9, on a geode-hunting expedition. They had purchased geodes before but had not found them in the wild, she said.


Leonard Springs Nature ParkAugust is a time of transition in Bloomington, and so it goes at Natural Bloomington. This past week I worked with the folks at IU Press on some minor tweaks to the Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana manuscript, which is in the hands of a copyeditor now and scheduled to land back in my lap for one last look on Aug. 17. Other than preparing the index -- which is 90 percent complete already -- and proofing the layout, my part is done.

So in addition to thinking about some Fall outings, I am transitioning to some new, nature-related projects as my student neighbors here in the Bryan Park Neighborhood transform and remind that I will be back in the classroom in less than a month.


The Outdoors page in Sunday's edition of The Herald-Times features an account of last week's ecotour with members of the Heartland Association of the American Council of the Blind. Page editor Carol Kugler took the entire four-hour ecotour with us and wrote an excellent cover story that captures the spirits of the day and ecotourism. Here's the lead:

Local ecotours offer chance to responsibly enjoy nature

Getting people outside to enjoy the scenic, natural beauty of southern Indiana. That’s the basic goal of Natural Bloomington, a project created by Bloomington’s Steven Higgs, who has worked as an environmental reporter and writer for a number of years and runs a news website.


Leonard Springs Nature PreserveComparing ecotours is a bit like comparing your kids. Each is different. And there are no favorites. But as I told Saturday's ecotour guests on a four-hour journey through wetlands, caves, waterfalls and old-growth forest around and in Bloomington, this one, sponsored by the Heartland Association of the American Council of the Blind, was special. Here's a Photo Album.

I've always sought diversity in my ecotour guests, who have ranged from rural Ellettsville seniors to Indy Sierrans to IU students, whose ethnicities include Chinese, Pakistani, Indian and Syrian. But I had never imagined leading a group of folks with visual impairments into a cave. And their enthusiasm and curiosity were unmatched, not to mention their stamina and adventurous spirits. Due to a slow start, we dropped our first planned hike and still went more than an hour beyond our scheduled tour.


A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana is moving through the production process. (See one of the back-cover blurbs below.) And I'm ready to start reserving copies for the patient among us who would like to support the work we do at both Natural Bloomington and the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter. Click here for details and ordering, but here's the upshot.

I invested a lot of time and money in this project. But let's be honest. I wrote a book in the digital age. Any return on investment is way down the road and not likely to be very substantial, which I knew going in. But there's good work to do now that also takes resources. For example, next Friday I am interviewing Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas at his office in Bedford. We will videotape the interview and share it with the public through Community Access Television Services and other venues.

I've been looking over the agency's management priorities -- timber sales, wildfire reduction, wildlife habitat, trails, recreation, etc. -- and noticed that between 2008 and 2011, the Forest Service harvested between 350,000 and 600,000 cubic feet of timber from the Hoosier. Since then it's been in the low 7,000s. Mike's been there a year now. I look forward to hearing about and sharing his vision.


Beanblossom Bottoms Nature PreserveThis past week's epic rains prompted cancellations of Thursday's pre-hike and Saturday's ecotour with members of the Heartlands Group Sierra Club. After the weather broke, I spent a couple hours Saturday afternoon on the Axsom Trail in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness and gave today's reschedule a thumbs up (though it's unclear if many folks will show). Aside from some predictable muck in the valley, the trails are in top shape.

With the year's first outing ready to go -- weather reports couldn't be any better -- we also nailed down details for the July 18 ecotour with the local chapter of the American Council of the Blind. Rural Transit will provide the transportation. And Carol Kugler from The Herald-Times is going to meet us and write a story about the event.


Porter West Preserve - Monroe County, Ind.I've spent much of this summer hanging with the Sierra Club -- in person, online, and over the phone. I've attended and participated in conference calls with Hoosier Chapter executive and communications committees. In addition to the wilderness first aid training I wrote about last Sunday, this past week I edited my first edition of the Indiana Sierran, the Hoosier Chapter's biannual (for now) newsletter. And I will be spending two days in the Hoosier National Forest this coming week with folks from Indy's Heartlands Group.

Heartlands' Lori Adelson, a fellow member of the state chapter's Executive and Communications Committees, has invited me to be a "guest educator" on a hike they are organizing for next Saturday, June 27. In the morning we will take an easy, two-mile stroll along Waldrip Ridge to a late-19th-century homesite on Monroe Lake's southwest shore, where we're sure to greeted by a family of black vultures that now occupies the second floor. The three-mile afternoon hike will take place across State Road 446 on the Axsom Trail in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness. Following a near-400-foot relief from the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower to the Asxom Branch creek, this one is anything but easy.

The Club has a lot of rules, among them that each hike must have two trained leaders, and one has to walk the entire route ahead of time. So Lori and I will be hiking both legs on Thursday. I'm confident my 64-year-old legs can take it.


In the past 18 months, my guidebook project has assumed many forms -- idea, draft, headache, escape, excuse to travel and hike. This past week, it became real. IU Press approved my art -- 100 full color photos and hand-drawn maps -- and sent me the book cover for A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana, which I am sharing with you. I posted it on Facebook and had orders start coming in before I clarified it won't be published until June 2016.

But with the Press's blessing, I will soon be reserving books for folks who financially support my work -- that's really what Natural Bloomington is about -- and are willing to wait a few months for delivery. Sort of like Wimpy, for us old timers -- "I will gladly give you a guidebook next year for a hamburger today."

More on that soon.


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