ACRES Land Trust’s newest preserve, the Mills-Black Nature Preserve protects 11 acres and extends an emerging preservation corridor.
Four generations of Michael Black’s family worked the land at the corner of Ernst and Aboite roads, five miles east of Roanoke. Michael didn’t want to see more of his family’s land sold off and divided, so he donated his remaining portion of eleven acres to ACRES, safeguarding his family’s legacy in perpetuity.
Today, the Mills-Black Nature Preserve stands sentinel from an 80-foot elevation over the wide Little River Valley in Allen County’s Lafayette Township. As Michael recalls, the family farmstead founded by his great grandfather, Robert Mills, originally extended north to the Little River. As each generation inherited land, portions of the farm were separated.
In 2004, Art Hammer bequeathed 24.3 acres adjacent to Mills’ land to ACRES as the Little Wabash River Nature Preserve. ACRES prioritizes working with willing land donors to expand existing preserves.
“Expanding preserves and establishing preservation corridors allows small, isolated habitats to grow into large natural communities,” said Jason Kissel, executive director of Indiana’s oldest and largest local land trust. “Michael worked with ACRES to preserve his family’s land and his gift grows a preservation corridor in our region.”
“My grandparents terrace-farmed up here, kept cows, pigs, too. I once got chased by the old sow!” said Michael. He remembers they grew corn and soybeans in the low farmland. Once Michael’s grandparents stopped farming, his father mowed the 3-acre hay field to keep invasive shrubs from taking over. Michael has mowed it too, using his grandfather’s 1939 hand crank-start Farmall tractor.
“This will be a fun preserve to restore,” said Casey Jones, ACRES director of land management. “Because it’s been mowed, it’s almost like starting from scratch. First, we’ll control some invading autumn olive, a non-native invasive species that crowds out native plants and reduces biodiversity, and then look at the soil type.”
“I can see it wants to be and probably had once been a forest. So, we’ll likely plant trees.” Jones will also evaluate extending trails up from the adjacent preserve to the summit of Mills-Black.
“My dad and uncle planted those evergreens about 30 or 40 years ago,” said Michael, pointing along the edge of the forest. “They’re reaching the end of their lives.” But not so for this portion of the Mills-Black land. As a nature preserve, its lifecycle is only beginning. Once restored, it will only improve and live on undisturbed for generations.
Mills-Black Nature Preserve is located in a preservation corridor extending from southern Allen County to Huntington.The corridor includes protected land and natural area totaling more than 9,000 acres.
Together with its members, ACRES preserves 5,924 acres of natural area in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan forever.