One of the parking areas along State Road 256 in southern Vernon Township recently opened to the public in the Austin Bottoms slong the Muscatatuck River.
Almost 1,400 new acres recently opened to the public in two project areas of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ ongoing Healthy Rivers INitiative (HRI).
The DNR has purchased more than 11,800 acres through HRI, a program launched in 2010 to secure permanent conservation protection of nearly 70,000 acres along the Muscatatuck River, Sugar Creek, and the Wabash River.
The new openings increase HRI purchases to 8,242 acres, including a 3,500-acre purchase of land previously leased as part of Fairbanks Landing Fish and Wildlife Area. The remaining 4,700 acres are in three locations- the Austin Bottoms (Muscatatuck), Sugar Creek and Wabash River conservation areas.
In Austin Bottoms Conservation Area, 154 new acres opened on April 18, bringing the total in that area to just over 3,000 acres. Five parking areas have been completed at Austin Bottoms with two more under construction. Austin Bottoms is along the Muscatatuck River in Jackson, Scott and Washington counties.
In Sugar Creek Conservation Area in Parke County, 1,221 new acres are open.
Last year, a 419-acre site was opened in the Wabash River Conservation Area in Vermillion County near the town of Montezuma.
Maps for all three conservation areas are at www.dnr.IN.gov/healthyriver/6502.htm.
Allowable activities include fishing, hunting, trapping, bird watching, nature photography and observation. Mushroom hunting is allowed after 1 p.m. during the spring turkey hunting season (now through May 11, regular season).
HRI is a partnership of resource agencies and organizations working with landowners to provide a model that balances forest, farmland and natural resources conservation; connects separated parcels of public land to benefit wildlife; protects important wildlife habitat and rest areas for migratory birds; opens lands to public recreational activities; establishes areas for nature tourism, and provides clean water and protection from flooding to downstream landowners.
To date, more than 31,300 acres are protected through DNR purchase, landowner enrollment in the federal Wetlands Reserve Program, or lands already under DNR management prior to HRI.