Ancient Trees

By Christian Freitag, Executive Director

This article originally appeared in the winter/spring 2018 issue of The Twig, our 24-page member newsletter. To read more from this issue, click here. To become a member and receive The Twig in the mail, become a member.

“Do not let what you can not do interfere with what you can do.”
Coach Wooden

Christian Freitag stands next to the largest tree in Hoot Woods, an old-growth forest in Owen County

This past December, Sycamore acquired ownership of Hoot Woods, 80 acres of genuine (pronounced jen-u-wine in this instance) Hoosier homegrown Owen County old-growth forest. Not just old, but ancient. Evidence suggests it is one of the only stands of never-been-cut woods remaining in Indiana. Only 2,000 acres of old-growth remain in the state, of the 200 million acres of forest in Indiana at the time of European settlement.

Countless studies have shown how important old-growth forests are to various species of plants and animals, especially in places where the forest has been so fragmented. Eighty acres of anything isn’t going to change the world single-handedly. But sometimes spirit matters as much as ecology. Knowing that there are places like this in southern Indiana, largely intact, remnants of a different time, going back possibly thousands of years — that says something about our values, about the quality we want our home to have. It says we care about what southern Indiana was because that’s a connection to what it can be.

Climate change will challenge much of our previous understanding of old-growth forests, along with all of our natural ecosystems. We continue to study these systems and seek greater understanding of how they work. One thing we do know — nothing remains the same. How systems adapt to change is a world of study. Places like Hoot Woods provide a tremendous opportunity to learn.

Of course, the real heroes of the story are the members of the Hoot family, who protected these woods since the family emigrated from Germany in 1860. Their vision, together with Sycamore’s shared commitment, will ensure this natural cathedral is protected forever. We may not be able to save all the places like Hoot Woods left in Indiana, but never underestimate what will be accomplished together by staying positive and focusing on “we can.”

Because of the sensitive nature of this property, we do not plan to open Hoot Woods to general public use. We do plan to have some guided hikes for Sycamore members, so keep your eye on for more info. You can find more facts and articles on Hoot Woods at