Visitors to a nature preserve can easily observe change as seasons pass and plants bloom or fade. ACRES Land Trust has taken the initiative to encourage visitors to think about a place’s history, beyond the seasonal changes. Founded in 1960, ACRES is Indiana’s oldest and largest local land trust. Its mission is to protect local land, including working land (i.e. farms), forests, wetlands, native grasslands, and habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species. ACRES acquired its first property in Steuben County in 1964, and today ACRES and its members protect more than 950 acres in Steuben County.
ACRES has managed Wing Haven, a Steuben County property, since 1984. Wing Haven is a popular destination for public-access to hiking, photography, and bird watching. Before the property came to ACRES, it was owned by Ben and Helen Swenson and operated as a resort. In addition to walking trails, rolling meadows, and forest, visitors can enjoy viewing the cabin and outbuildings as well as Helen Swenson’s art studio and Little Gentian Lake. Since 2014, ACRES has applied for grant funding from Steuben County Community Foundation to complement its mission to protect local land—but not in the most common way of land acquisition.
In June of 2014, ACRES received a grant from SCCF to preserve records left behind at Wing Haven by Ben and Helen Swenson. Helen was an artist who found inspiration in Wing Haven, but her work and the historical documents were packed in boxes that did not protect from aging. This grant allowed ACRES to transform and preserve these items, which are now kept in archive-quality storage and displayed at ACRES facilities and for art exhibits. In 2017, ACRES kicked off its 200 Year Ecological Reflection with a collaborative study of Wing Haven that combined art, science, and environmental preservation. Grant dollars from SCCF were used to commission a painting of Little Gentian Lake, a poem incorporating past writings and current reflections about Wing Haven, and a plant inventory. These efforts culminated in a 2018 grant from SCCF to design and install interpretive panels to share the history of Ben and Helen Swenson and their passion for nature. The goal of this project is to help connect visitors to “the human history, to be able to look back and realize that love for Wing Haven is shared across time,” said Heather Barth, ACRES’s Director of Fund Development. “Preserving the social history of ACRES properties isn’t a new concept to the organization. Any time we acquire land that has historical significance, we work to research and record that history and do what we can to preserve it.”
As a nonprofit located in Huntertown, ACRES found a unique way to serve Steuben County, applying for grant funding from SCCF that enhanced their mission without directly funding environmental protection or acquisition. Each project fits within the holistic view ACRES has taken of the land they wish to preserve, allowing residents of Steuben County to see the impact over many generations of preserving our natural lands. With the vision of ACRES staff and board, some grant funding from SCCF, and their emphasis on history, ACRES is showing that people have gained something from visiting with nature throughout time. “To know who these people are, their attachment to the land, and the work they put into it during their time helps inspire our organization’s members, volunteers, board of directors, and staff to ensure our care and protection of the land remains intact,” shared Jason Kissel, Executive Director at ACRES. SCCF enjoys funding creative grant applications that are uniquely designed to meet the needs of our local community and demonstrate impact with time. Learn how to apply for grants or our website or contact Jacqui Gentile, SCCF Program Officer, with any questions.