On the Banks of the Beanblossom
Sycamore’s Enduring Protection of a Critical Ecological Corridor
By Ellen Bergan, Land Stewardship Assistant
The creek beckons as Chris Fox, Land Stewardship Director, and I trudge through the sodden cornfield at Fix-Stoelting Preserve. Breaking through the brush at the field’s edge, it’s only a few more steps past blooming ephemerals and spicebush until we’re standing on the sheer embankment of Beanblossom Creek.
Beanblossom Creek shines in the sun as it flows through Fix- Stoelting Preserve, part of the Beanblossom Creek Bicentennial Conservation Area. John Lawrence
We’re here to assess areas of the field for potential habitat restoration, but enjoying the unique sights of the property is a priority as well. A pair of wood ducks, alerted by our presence, smack the water as they fly downstream. The creek is languid, cutting deep into the earth while a canopy of sycamores, oaks, and beeches arch over it. Warblers flit between the trees, and a scoured path on the muddy slope down to the creek suggests regular beaver or muskrat activity. I take a deep breath, appreciating a moment of peace in this sheltered spot alongside the stream.
This parcel of land is part of the nearly 1,600 acres Sycamore protects along Beanblossom Creek. Since our first acquisition of land in the Beanblossom Creek area in 1993, Sycamore has made protecting and restoring the stream and its floodplain a priority in our conservation efforts. The Beanblossom Creek Bicentennial Conservation Area in northern Monroe County embodies this focus and the progress we have made in protecting the area’s critical ecosystems. It is one of only five Bicentennial Conservation Areas in Indiana, celebrating and protecting the state’s most sensitive and important natural areas.
A CREEK RUNS THROUGH IT
Winding its sinuous path through Brown and Monroe counties before flowing into the West Fork of the White River, Beanblossom Creek drains nearly 92 square miles throughout its journey. During this route, the stream crosses an array of landscapes that characterize our southern Indiana home.
Beginning in northern Brown County, it passes by farmed fields and under covered bridges, flows through lakes and developing oxbows and over logs felled by beavers. It bisects our Trevlac Bluffs Nature Preserve, where it is bordered by a sandy bottomland to the north while the steep bluff towers over it to the south. It sweeps past Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve and its unique, vibrant wetland habitat, and follows along a mile of frontage at the Sam Shine Foundation Preserve. It flows downslope of the native prairie planting at our Powell Preserve, and finally empties into the White River beside The Laura Hare Nature Preserve at the Confluence.
Beanblossom Creek shapes these environments it passes through, especially the lowland areas that lie within its floodplain. Precipitation and spring thaws naturally flood areas surrounding the creek, bringing in nutrient-rich sediment and creating a variety of wetland habitats in which a diverse array of wildlife and plants thrive. The ecological diversity and productivity that results from Beanblossom Creek’s presence, as well as the important functions the wetlands themselves provide, has distinguished this stream and its watershed as invaluable to our regional environment.
Beanblossom Creek flows alongside our Sam Shine Foundation Preserve for more than a mile. Katrina Folsom
PROTECTING THE WATERSHED
Sycamore Land Trust has been protecting land in the Beanblossom Creek watershed for almost as long as the organization has been in existence. Our first land acquisition in the area came from Barbara Restle in 1993, who entrusted a 42-acre parcel of land to Sycamore. This property, the Restle Natural Area, laid the foundation for the focus of our conservation efforts in protecting land within the watershed.
A few years later, Sycamore made its first outright land purchase in the Beanblossom Creek area. The 80-acre parcel, then known as “Habitat for Herons,” was recognized for the great blue heron rookery and stunning biodiversity found in its wetland habitat. As we have continued to add surrounding land over the years, this acquisition has grown to become the 736-acre Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve we know today. Land donated by Patsy Powell in 2003 further added to the protected area along the creek in what is now the Powell Preserve.
In 2015, Sycamore began acquiring more creekside land when the Bicentennial Nature Trust approved our proposal to make part of Beanblossom Creek in northern Monroe County a Bicentennial Conservation Area, one of just five in the state. With this designation, the state of Indiana allocated $1 million towards land conservation in the Beanblossom Creek watershed, requiring that all projects be matched in funding. The support we received in this matching grant exemplifies the dedication Sycamore supporters have to the conservation legacy of this significant natural area. In addition to the support from the Bicentennial Nature Trust, funding has come from many generous donors, including the Sam Shine Foundation, the Efroymson Fund, the Laura Hare Charitable Trust, the Ropchan Foundation, Oliver Winery, and more than 200 individuals and businesses, resulting in more than $2 million of support for land conservation.
Since the Beanblossom Creek Bicentennial Conservation Area project began, Sycamore has purchased over 900 acres in the Beanblossom Creek watershed. With your help, we now protect nearly 1,600 acres in the Beanblossom Creek area in Monroe County and 260 acres along the creek in Brown County. While some of our properties in this area are open for public use and enjoyment, including our flagship Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve, much of the land acquired during this project has been dedicated towards habitat restoration and preservation.
Click the map to expand.
CREATING A CORRIDOR
Our work in the Beanblossom Creek area is far from over. As we continue our outreach to landowners and restoration projects, we are realizing our long-held vision of an ecological corridor through the Beanblossom Creek watershed. By connecting tracts of natural land together, we are providing a contiguous space for plants and animals to thrive. Ecological corridors are well-recognized as important avenues for species to move in a broader, protected range of habitat, a function that will only become more crucial as climate change drives shifts in species habitat ranges.
When this corridor includes stream and wetland habitat, its conservation becomes even more critical. These areas act as dynamic crossroads in ecosystems, providing a space where water, soil, energy, and organisms interact. This intersection drives essential functions that promote ecosystem resilience, such as cycling nutrients, filtering contaminants, supporting biodiversity, and regulating streamflow.
The importance of these ecological corridors has driven our focus on land conservation in the Beanblossom Creek area for almost 30 years. And the conservation of these local natural features has downstream significance as well — the White River, to which Beanblossom Creek is a major tributary, supplies water to over a million Hoosiers. None of our accomplishments in this conservation area would have been possible without support from our generous members, donors, and volunteers. By creating a corridor in the Beanblossom Creek watershed and protecting the diverse ecosystems and species that are within it, we are working towards creating a more connected and resilient future – for both ourselves and the environment.
The sun sets over the Beanblossom Creek Bicentennial Conservation Area. John Lawrence
Do you have land near Beanblossom Creek or one of Sycamore’s nature preserves?
Our successful protection of land in the Beanblossom Creek watershed would not be possible without the help of landowners in the area. We’d love to talk with you about your options for working with Sycamore to preserve your land as a natural area forever. Please get in touch with Rob McCrea, our Land Preservation Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-336-5382, extension 106.
This article was published in the Summer 2021 edition of The Twig “The Wetlands Issue.” Read more here.