Longtime Conservationist Fights to Protect Land for Future Generations in West Central Indiana

Daily Point of Light # 6158 Dec 21, 2017

Think of volunteering, and images of helping children, older adults, or rescue animals might pop to mind. But, donating time and energy also means providing services to protect the environment.

For Phil Cox, working with the Ouabache Land Conservancy in Indiana for nearly a decade has been exactly how he’s offered up his time and energies. With land and wildlife being a finite resource, Phil devotes his time to protecting properties, making them accessible for public enjoyment, and taking steps to improve and restore them. It’s an endeavor he hopes will benefit generations to come.

Points of Light talked with Phil about his volunteer service as president of Ouabache Land Conservancy.

Why did you decide to get involved with the Ouabache Land Conservancy?

I got involved back in 2008 and have been working for the Land Conservancy ever since. I was originally involved with the Ouabache Audubon Society, and they asked me to be on the Land Conservancy Board. It was just getting started up. I decided to go to a meeting, and it looked like it would be great thing for West Central Indiana to protect its land for future generations. So, it’s just another name for a land trust. We own properties in our area, and we hold conservation easements on properties that are privately held so they can have deed restrictions. That means that private land can’t be developed even after the property changes hands. It’s protected for what we call perpetuity — forever. We currently own three properties like that and have other conservation easement properties. We have approximately 643 acres. We’re an all-volunteer organization. All of us are on the advisory board, and we’re really dedicated to this. We don’t get paid anything for it. We just love what we do in protecting the land.

Why is this work so important?

They’re not making any more land. If we just keep letting it be developed, we won’t have any left for future generations of wildlife species, plants, and animals or for future generations of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They won’t have any places to enjoy nature. People often have to drive great distances to see nature, and we want to keep some of those places closer to home.

How do you get the community involved?

We try to get the word out frequently. We have activities throughout the year to involve the community and get people to come out on nature hikes, fall foliage hikes, and spring wildflower hikes. We encourage them to bring their family and children and get out into the woods and the prairies. We want them to see the spring wildflowers and see what’s happened in nature. People don’t often get to do that. That’s how we like to introduce people to what we do. Each of the hikes varies in the number of people. We’ve had anywhere from six people to 30 people on the hikes. We have an annual meeting where we try to get a lot of involvement for our fundraiser, and we plan the hikes quarterly. This year, we’ll be adding a spring birding hike.

How do you acquire more land for the Conservancy?

A lot of the time, people will contact us directly if they want to save the property they own from development. They want to see how we could help them and see how we accomplish our goals. Sometimes, if we think a property is important and it’s adjacent to one we already own, we’ll contact the landowner to see if he or she might be interested in working with the Land Conversancy. If there’s interest, wonderful. If not, we leave material with them — a brochure and contact information — so they can get in touch with us in the future if they change their minds.

Depending on how motivated people are and what legal issues might be in place, acquiring a new property might only take a month. Sometimes, it takes longer.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your volunteer work?

Our mission statement is that we protect, preserve, and restore the land in West Central Indiana to provide habitat for wildlife, scenic beauty, improve water and air quality, all while enhancing the quality of life.

Right now, we’re just getting started on a $200,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. We’re trying to help clean up the Otter Creek Watershed. We hope to complete it by August 2019. The goal is to write a watershed management plan that would have different conservation practices that would help control the largely man-made pollution that’s in Otter Creek.

That’s keeping us pretty busy right now. It’s a project that’s a little bit outside of what we would normally do, but we felt it was important. It will show that grassroots efforts like this one — with only a few people working together toward a common goal — can make great things happen.

Jia Gayles