News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 8, 2010

New Deer Creek Fish and Wildlife area in Putnam County will open almost 2,100 acres to public

PUTNAMVILLE — The lack of set-aside property is one of the top reasons people give to drop out of fishing and hunting, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

That is why a land exchange to create about 2,100 acres of recreational land for public use will benefit Hoosiers, especially those in close proximity to the new Deer Creek Fish and Wildlife Area in west-central Indiana.

On Thursday, as Gov. Mitch Daniels and a contingent of state officials from the DNR and Department of Correction toured the new wildlife area around the Putnamville Correctional Facility, five wild turkeys and a couple of deer appeared as if on cue to showcase the land’s bounty.

“Many young folk don’t grow up next to nature like this,” Daniels said from the deck of a 1908 iron bridge in a scenic area across Deer Creek.

The Deer Creek property includes a four-acre pond that offers fishing for bass, bluegill and catfish. The actual Deer Creek winds through the southern portion of the property and is associated with one lowhead dam, an iron bridge, and a concrete creek crossing. Game hunting is allowed for deer, quail, rabbit, squirrel, dove, woodcock, waterfowl and wild turkey. Also, gathering of blackberries, raspberries, mushrooms and nuts is allowed.

The property will be open to the public only Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. There is no public access Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The DNR will open the wildlife area to the public Oct. 29. In exchange, the DNR has released about 1,200 acres of Atterbury Fish and Wildlife Area to the Indiana National Guard, to be developed in a $105 million expansion of Camp Atterbury in Johnson County.

The majority of the original Atterbury Fish and Wildlife Area has been preserved. What was exchanged was area mostly unused by the public due to its limited vegetation and scrubby undergrowth.

“The contrast is dramatic,” Daniels said noting that he has visited the somewhat barren Atterbury exchange land, and saying he was impressed by the variety of wildlife that comes with the new recreation area. “We’ll have to be careful not to gloat about what you did here.”

The Putnamville facility maintains several hundred acres dominated by oak and hickory trees, some of it on land known as the North Ranch located north of U.S. 40. The state’s Division of Forestry has managed the timber for years. The property also has hundreds of acres in tenant farming, as well as pasture land.

“We hope to adjust that over time,” said Randy Millar, a DNR property manager who has been working on the property exchange. “The plan is to reduce the tenant farming areas over time, rolling it into more permanent wildlife habitat.”

The majority of the land adjacent to the correctional facility is no longer used for the agricultural endeavors that once were undertaken by the offenders housed at the prison.

“The corrections culture has changed,” said Kevin Orme of the DOC. “The offenders we used to have out here were misdemeanants. Due to the change in the culture of corrections, not just across Indiana but across the nation, we can’t allow the offenders to come out and manage property as we used to.”

Public access to the land surrounding the prison will still be monitored.

Mark Reiter, director of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Division, said signage will be placed around the perimeter of the prison to notify the public what border not to cross.

“I don’t think we’re going to have any problem with that,” Reiter said.

He noted that the property will be closed to hunting and fishing three days a week so that the land is not overused. Already, parking lots have been placed at five access points around the perimeter of the land. Check in stations will be established for those entering the land to hunt or fish.

“Most of the sport hunters and fishermen are aware of the rules and follow the regulations,” DNR Director Rob Carter said.

In all, the state gains about 800 acres of recreational property through the land swap. Meanwhile, the National Guard gains property for military training and mobilization. The National Guard plans to use the Atterbury land it acquires to construct administrative offices, housing and other facilities that will form the cornerstone of its Army Mobilization Center.

The land exchange required approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service because both federal agencies had a stake in DNR’s acquisition of land for Atterbury Fish and Wildlife Area in 1969. The agencies had to be satisfied that no significant environmental impact would occur as a result of the land exchange and that the public would receive land of equal or greater wildlife, recreational and monetary value.

Reiter also noted that some adjoining property owners around the new fish and wildlife area have been contacted about adding some land to the area. That could provide more public access sites.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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