On a steep slope along the south bank of Guthrie Creek, the 44-acre Hemlock Bluff Nature Preserve can be found near the Jackson-Lawrence county line.
After pulling into a gravel parking lot off of West County Road 200S, you can follow a trail loop that goes along the bluff top.
The area features eastern hemlock, hardwood, American beech, sugar maple, red oak, basswood and red elm trees.
The hemlocks are remnants of a previous glacial period and persist this far south only on cooler north-facing slopes, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. One of the hemlocks, at 33 inches in diameter and 4½ feet above ground level, is the largest in the state.
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Before working on a project, most of the six members of the Leadership Jackson County social concerns team hadn’t even heard of Hemlock Bluff Nature Preserve.
But this past weekend, they all became acquainted with it by spending six hours painting wooden posts and signs, benching the trail, improving steps, adding rock and digging along a creek.
This Saturday, they will return to the area for more benching and general touchup.
Ira Auffenberg, a member of the project team who has worked for DNR for six years, lives in the Clearspring area and knew about the nature preserve but didn’t realize it had a trail.
Earlier this year when the team was trying to come up with a project, he suggested fixing the Swinging Bridge, which is close to Hemlock Bluff. But that work would have taken too much time.
“We wanted something within a smaller scope that we could get accomplished,” said Auffenberg, who works at the Jackson-Washington State Forest. “I’ve heard people talk about people enjoying the nature preserve, but the only issue is the trail is rough to walk on. It needed some tender loving care.”
Auffenberg and team members Joshua Ratliff, Missy Cox, Sharla Todd, Patsy Hess and Gretchen Rose decided to double their workforce by having local youth volunteer on the two work days.
“It really impressed me how much we got done with them,” Auffenberg said. “It just shows them that a little hard work could go a long way in helping their community. Plus, it’s getting them involved in the outdoors.”
The team also received help from a few other people.
Chris Marks, who works with Todd at JCB, took pictures of the area before work began and returned to take pictures of everyone working and the finished project. Those photos will be used in the team’s project presentation May 19 at Seymour City Hall.
Blake Hackman’s class at Brownstown Central High School is making a bench for the class to place along the trail with “LJC Class of 2016” on it.
The group also had food and drinks donated by The Pines, The Brooklyn Pizza Co. and Chili’s for lunch on their work days.
In previous years, many Leadership Jackson County projects have made an impact in the Seymour area. So this project team decided to do something different.
“Ira works for DNR and thought this trail needed a makeover,” Todd said. “It’s neglected way out here in Medora, and LJC doesn’t do a whole lot of things in Medora project-wise, so we thought we would help this community out a little bit.”
Some of the team members had visited the trail before the work days.
“It was a lot of fun, actually,” Todd said. “I like to hike, so I enjoyed it quite a bit. We had a good time that day. Ira pointed out the different things that he thought needed done … trying to make it more of a safe environment and clean it up to where people would be enticed to come out here in Medora and try it out.”
For some of the others, Saturday was the first time seeing the nature preserve.
“I’m familiar with areas similar to this. I’ve hiked and stuff before, just not in this area of the county,” Rose said. “It’s just good to have these areas. It’s good for people to have them this time of year for mushroom hunting season, and as it gets warmer, people come out for picnics.
“So if you have these areas available, people will use them,” she said. “If they are not available, they are not easily accessible, the trails aren’t clear, then obviously, people are less likely to use them.”
Cox said she likes the idea of cleaning up an area to make it more pleasant for people to use.
“Any time you are doing anything to better the community, I think it is a good idea anywhere, no matter where you are at,” she said. “I know here in this area is somewhere most people don’t think about or even know about. I like working with people and doing things that I haven’t done before.”
Now that he has visited the nature preserve, Ratliff said he plans to take his family there.
“Before we started this project, I didn’t realize our county stretched so far,” he said. “It’s a really nice trail. I feel like we got the trail ready for hiking season. We got to build, maintain and clean something for our community. When you help take care of something, you appreciate it more.”
Once the first work day arrived, team members and the volunteers spread out in the nature preserve and started with a task. They spent a little time doing that and then moved on to the others, so everybody got to have a part in every job.
Todd said she didn’t mind wearing gloves and boots and rolling her pants legs up to dig along a creek.
“It’s a lot of fun. Who doesn’t love to be in nature during the day?” she said. “I am ready to go. I am enjoying my outdoor day.”
Volunteer Levi Murphy said he had a good time helping Todd. Growing up in the Medora area, he had visited the nature preserve before.
“I wasn’t really up for it until I found out it was going to be here, and I was like, ‘I’ll do it,’” he said. “I’m from around Medora, and there’s not much to do, so if we’re adding on to something that people can do, I want to be a part of it. It’s not every day you get to help your hometown. I really like this.”
The project team members agreed it was good to get the youth involved.
“We thought it would be a fun project to teach them some life skills later on down the road as far as if they get into different outdoor jobs or maybe just home maintenance things they could do around their house,” Todd said.
“Just being able to reach out as part of a leadership group to let them know that leaders in the community care about the youth, we want them to be our next generation of leaders,” Rose said. “We don’t need to necessarily do that always by going into the schools and doing presentations or speeches. Sometimes, you can do that by just hanging out.”
Ratliff said he also liked working with the youth.
“Fixing the trail is great, but the best part is working with the youth of our county,” he said. “I hope the kids got a sense of accomplishment because that builds good character. I know they had fun being outside.”
Cox and Hess both said they feel the kids got a lot out of the experience.
“I hope that the kids that are helping with this project feel some pride in revitalizing the area for people in Jackson County and surrounding counties to enjoy,” Hess said.
“I hope it’s a feel-good for them, and they can learn how to do things — learn how to paint and level out stuff and do the rebar and all of that,” Cox said. “I think it’s just a good learning tool.”
Auffenberg said after this weekend’s final work day, he will be excited to see the difference everyone made at the nature preserve.
“To see it done will be like a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “It makes me feel good to know there’s something on that side of the county that people can enjoy.”