24 March 2016

The one, and for a long time only county memorial forest in Indiana

This unassuming pile of rocks is likely the base to the monument planned in the forest.
Back in 1943, the State of Indiana passed a new law permitting counties to hold wooded tracts of land under the concept that the land would address both conservation efforts and be used for recreational and "memorial" purposes.  The first such county to do so, as an example for others, was Marshall County in the northern part of the state.  It had an unlikely start, and for more than 50 years, remained the only county in Indiana to have a "Memorial Forest".  It was joined by Starke County in the last decade.

Here's an article about the forest that appeared in the Culver newspaper as written by Robert Kyle, a prominent Indiana journalist:

"A traveling troupe of beavers was responsible for the Marshall County Memorial Forest - the first established under the 1943 law permitting Indiana counties to acquire and maintain wooded tracts. First Sam Jones, an observant farmer living north of Burr Oak on Yellow River, reported he had seen signs of quaking aspen cut down in a small swamp across his line fence. Then Luke Duddleson, the county highway maintenance man, related in casual conversation around a tavern stove that "somethin'" was plugging up a culvert that led to the river "faster than I can clean it out." Russ Fisher, local authority on wildlife in general, and this writer out of curiosity visited the area several weeks later. We found a worthless 8O-acre tract, mostly blow-sand, and a sprinkling of long-neglected apple trees to one side of a swail surrounded by second-growth black oaks, through which a small stream trickled from a spring at the back of the property. Sure enough, there were evidences of beaver workings, and a small dam just back of the culvert was a second line of defense against Luke's determination to keep the culvert open.

During the hunting season Russ and I cruised the surrounding territory, flushed a number of wood ducks that had nested in small dead trees in the pond, and came to the conclusion that to preserve the beaver workings as an educational project we would have to acquire the area and reforest it. We talked the situation over with Harry Medbourn, county commissioner from our district, who came forth with the idea that the county buy it, taking advantage of the 1943 law, and make it into a recreational area. Meanwhile, Harry carried the idea to the other commissioners, Justin Myers and Ben Smith, who looked favorably upon using county funds to buy the acreage. By that time, public opinion was sounded out and sentiment, both favorable and otherwise, was fomented, and finally the opposition ran out of arguments, and funds of $1,600 were set aside, with the blessing of the Indiana Board of Tax Commissioners, and the property was acquired. Next Ted Shaw, Purdue extension forester and at that time acting state forester while Ralph Wilcox was in service, was contacted. He brought expert technical knowledge along with remarkable vision to the undertaking. His plan was for a model or "pilot" county forest from which other communities could get encouragement to reforest their waste land.


Russ enlisted the services of 18 active county conservation clubs and was appointed chairman of a planning committee consisting of Harry Lower of Plymouth, present conservation officer; Herb Sloan of Bremen, former conservation officer; Otto H. Grossman of Argos, ardent Waltonian; Mrs. F.W. Bates of Culver, president of the Marshall County Federation of Women's Clubs, and Orner Bixel of Plymouth, president of the County Council of Conservation Clubs. This committee, by donations, accumulated the $250 necessary to order the trees from the Division of Forestry and supplied the volunteer labor to clean the land and assist in planting. Boy Scouts, 4-H Clubs, neighboring farmers, conservationists and other interested groups planted 22,000 trees.  Nearly one-fifth of the area was hand planted due to the roughness of the terrain. Fire lanes, which surround and transect the area, were plowed and will be kept cultivated throughout the summer as protective measures. "The work resembled an old-fashioned barn-raising job," Ted added. "Everybody pitched in and got the job done. The old and the young were there, the women and the men. And they did a good planting job. Survival is very high to date." Future plans call for the planting of low-growing game food species such as the dwarf chinquapin oak, which had recently been found growing wild nearby. The development of the memorial shrine and natural amphitheater is the next step on the program. Plans are now being drawn. This memorial, possibly to be undertaken by county veteran organizations, will consist of planting hardwoods, with suitable markers as memorials to the 90-odd service men from the county who gave their lives in World War II. What Marshall County has done can be duplicated in every county in the state with a moderate expenditure of money and organized effort. It is admitted that the county forest is not the solution to our reforestation problems, but it is the initial step in that direction."

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