Many, many, many years from now, when future generations are admiring the beauty of a globally rare dune-and-swale habitat in Hammond, tallgrass prairie in Hobart, oak savanna in Portage, Moraine forest in LaPorteCounty, and other breathtaking natural wonders of Northwest Indiana, they may throw a glance back to 1981 and celebrate another anniversary of the Shirley Heinze Land Trust.
There is already much to celebrate this year, the 30th anniversary of its founding. The Trust follows two paths – to protect and restore ecologically significant natural areas in Northwest Indiana, and to inspire and educate people of all ages about the value of land conservation to protect our natural world and enrich our lives.
The organization was established as the Shirley Heinze Environmental Fund with the Unity Foundation on November 21, 1981. A generous endowment from Robert and Bette Lou Seidner in memory of Dr. Shirley Heinze, who was actively involved in the protection of the Indiana Dunes, made it possible. According to Dale Enquist, President of the Board of Directors, in the early years, the Fund relied heavily on Save the Dunes Council for guidance, board membership, staff, and even office space.
A look back shows an already impressive record of achievement. The habitats mentioned above are just part of the more than 1,200 acres of precious natural land – covering the entire spectrum of natural communities in the region – that have been protected. The Trust has transferred many properties to partner organizations, and has contributed to the acquisition of other lands, including such treasures as Hoosier Prairie and Moraine Nature Preserve.
Success in land stewardship truly sets the Trust apart. The staff members assigned those responsibilities are the unsung heroes of the organization. They have introduced innovative techniques and equipment, found reliable funding sources, developed partnerships with a diverse group of public and private entities, and established a strong corps of volunteers. The magnificence of our nature preserves is a testament to their creativity and hard work.
Education continues to be a major part of the mission. The annual series of guided nature walks has been a Shirley Heinze staple for more than 25 years. The Trust has published books on local environmental themes and sponsored many classes, workshops and lectures. The most ambitious venture is the ongoing Mighty Acorns program, which is connecting fourth and fifth graders with nature through direct involvement in stewardship activities on our preserves.
The Seidner’s investment was the seed, and it has been carefully tended. Because the Shirley Heinze Land Trust has grown healthy and will continue to mature and thrive, so will the most beautiful and significant natural habitats of our region.