Conservancy creates nearby park locator connecting people, parks

How far do you live from a natural area?

A free public nature preserve, state forest or wildlife refuge may be closer than you realize.

Oak Heritage Conservancy, a local nonprofit that has created 11 nature preserves in southeast Indiana, wants everyone to know that nature is nearby.

This fall, the conservancy is sharing that idea with a new “park locator” and an upcoming event in Batesville.

And conservancy officials don’t just want to talk about its 11 nature preserves. They’re trying to connect people to all sorts of parks and natural areas throughout the region.

“You don’t have to go to Yellowstone National Park or the Grand Canyon to find nature,” Executive Director Liz Brownlee said.

“We want everyone to know that they can get outside into some spectacular natural areas right here in southeast Indiana — if you know where to look.”

There are at least 59 natural areas in southeast Indiana. That includes well-known places such as state parks but also national forest land and wildlife refuges, pristine ecosystems protected by The Nature Conservancy, nature preserves protected by the state and county parks.

For residents wondering where all of these natural areas can be found, the conservancy has created a map to help.

The park locator can be found by visiting oakheritage conservancy.org.

To find nearby parks and preserves, enter your ZIP code. The map also lists what visitors can do at each location, from boating and fishing to hiking and biking, and shows directions for getting to the park.

And for the nature lovers who might think they already know all of the best natural areas in southeast Indiana, the conservancy is issuing a challenge.

In October, author and environmental reporter Steve Higgs will host a talk about little-known natural areas that every nature lover should know but probably doesn’t. Higgs just released the first comprehensive guide to natural areas in southern Indiana.

“We invite people to join us on Oct. 14 and see if they already know every place that Higgs is going to talk about. I suspect that we’ll all be surprised by the hidden gems in our own backyard,” Brownlee said.

Higgs’ talk is a part of Oak Heritage Conservancy’s annual dinner.

The dinner will be at The Sherman in Batesville, a newly restored 19th century restaurant. A $30 ticket includes fine dining, a cash auction to raise funds for local conservation efforts, a cash bar with fine wines and beers, Higgs’ talk and time to socialize with others.

“The best part about the dinner is that it’s a chance to connect with other nature lovers from the area and see that you are part of something bigger — you are helping create access to nature and protecting the natural world in southeast Indiana,” said Brownlee, who lives in the Crothersville area.

On the Web

To reserve tickets to the annual dinner or to try out the park locator and find a park nearby, visit oakheritageconservancy.org.