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A Natural Grant Connection

By JoAnna Ness, Aug 20 2018 02:00PM

On a recent sunny day, crews from Gene Stratton-Porter (GSP) and Blue Heron Ministries trekked out to the Hemingway Wetlands where GSP is in the process of returning reclaimed farmlands to their natural grasses. Steuben County Community Foundation (SCCF) was able to gather these groups together thanks to a generous gift from Cheryl Taylor and through the fund she established at SCCF in honor of her husband’s 30 years of service to the DNR and his passion for conservation. The Ralph and Cheryl Taylor Conservation Fund was established as a surprise for him in 2003, and after his passing in 2009, Cheryl has ensured that his legacy lives on through projects like this one.

For this project, Blue Heron Ministries planted two grass-like plants around the islands in the wetland area to keep geese from climbing onto the land, reducing the likelihood they will nest there and spread disease. The two plants are sedges and bulrush, which are native to the area and grow in wetlands. Currently, there is a fence around many of the islands in the wetland area. Once the new plants have grown up, they will form a natural fence that replaces the current structure.

Cheryl’s gift to SCCF was at the center of this collaborative effort, with the Nature Conservancy donating the plants, Blue Heron Ministries installing the plants, and the community around Gene Stratton-Porter benefitting from the conservation of their wetlands. The grant request was part of a State Museum initiative to restore lands in Indiana to the way they were in the 1800s.

As the crew planted the grasses, Cheryl shared stories of her husband and their time together. “I have a thousand bits of trivia from my husband. He was the most interesting man I ever met in my life,” she said.

Cheryl recalled a story of canoeing with her husband, when he suggested she try a bite of a native cattail. She said it tasted like cucumbers, although not as delicious as the chocolate chip cookies she had brought on the trip (which Ralph later gave to a curious deer).

Ralph was passionate about conservation in his career, and it carried through his entire life. After driving down a state highway and seeing a portion of wildflowers planted in a prominent location, Ralph was inspired to concoct the perfect mixture of native wildflower seeds to plant on the majority of their estate. Cheryl spoke excitedly about how she would love to encourage more children and people to go outside and get their hands dirty with planting flowers and enjoying nature.

In addition to connecting a key donor to Steuben County Community Foundation with a grantee who benefits from many funds held at SCCF—Blue Heron Ministries—a third connection was made when Cheryl was introduced to Steuben County’s 2016 Lilly Endowment Community Scholar, Sara Wilson. Wilson spent the summer as an intern for Blue Heron Ministries and was involved in the planting that day. She thanked Cheryl for providing the grant funds and shared that her grandmother always spoke about how much she loved the area they were planting.

Cheryl was also able take part in the project and planted many of the grasses around the gazebo. She said her husband would have wanted everyone to do some of the planting. “He always said the only way to experience is to really participate and get your hands dirty!”

This is the third project in three years and in three counties that Cheryl Taylor and Blue Heron Ministries have been involved in to promote the conservation goals of Cheryl’s husband, Ralph.