Wildcat oxbow creates natural opportunity
A parcel of farmland along Wildcat Creek in Carroll County will grow its last crop this season. Next year the lowlying field will be returned to its native state, filled with trees and Indiana prairie grasses, and will remain that way forever.
David McCain, a member of the Wildcat Creek Foundation (WCF), told the Comet Thursday the foundation will soon own a 50-acre field nestled between Adams Mill and Adams Mill Covered Bridge near Cutler. WCF is a non-profit land trust organization formed to protect areas along the scenic waterway for which it was named.
"The foundation views this area as the gem of the Wildcat," McCain said. "This field is the central part of the gem."
McCain said the foundation will work with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to reconcile the tilled ground back to its natural state as a wetland. The effort will create Oxbow Natural Area, a protected park between the bridge and mill which will allow visitors to stroll between the points of interest.
'Oxbow' is a term used to define a waterway which circles back close to a point from which it came, much like the shape of a yoke used with oxen. The narrow opening of land between the opposite-running waters of the Wildcat at this site made it feasible for the mill to be situated there. Water coming in from upstream could be directed through the mill run then back into the creek on the other side of the building.
Another benefit of an oxbow according to McCain is that the banks form a natural barrier for the land inside the circle. The result is a perfect place for animals and plants to flourish and humans to enjoy. He said the layout was what enticed the foundation to focus on the site.
Last year WCF purchased the wooded buffer between the creek and field. The purchase was made possible with some help from private donations and the Indiana Heritage Trust, which is mainly funded by environmental license plates.
McCain said the project was moving along steadily. Work has already begun on a trail through there which will meander along the creek from the mill to the covered bridge. More trees will be planted around the field's perimeter to extend the buffer. A few invasive and exotic trees will be removed beforehand. The remainder of the field will be sown in native Indiana prairie grasses. Additionally, a small portion of a levee between the future wetland and creek will be removed so water from creek flooding will keep the wetland damp.
McCain affirmed the trail should be completed this year and will include a stairway to provide access to the bridge from the lower-lying field. Visitors will be able to park across the road from the mill and walk around the oxbow to the bridge.
As the wetland develops, plans call for a boardwalk to be installed through there so walkers can enjoy the natural area up close.
The idea for the nature area's name came from a study of the Wildcat Creek valley performed by landscape architecture students from Purdue University. They focused on the same area WCF had eyed, calling it the "Oxbow Opportunity." Plans they drew up included the wetland and boardwalk, similar to WCF and DNR visions. McCain said when the students spoke at a foundation meeting last week members liked the term and their ideas.
"It's true, this oxbow presents a great opportunity," he agreed. "Professor Bernie Dahl's students got a good feel for the place. They hit upon some great ideas."
Jim and Persis Newman, foundation patrons, bought the farmland approximately six months ago and will hold the property until WCF raises the funds to complete the purchase. Mrs. Newman told the Comet Monday she and her husband wanted to help ensure the foundation would acquire the property.
"We are pleased to hold the land until the foundation is ready to proceed," she said. "We appreciate what is planned for the area."
McCain said the couple's help made it possible for WCF to pursue their dream for the site.
"Three years ago the foundation began a concerted effort to acquire the entire oxbow," he explained. "In the next several months, or certainly by the end of year, WCF expects to raise enough private donations to pool with the IHT money to complete the purchase from the Newmans."
McCain explained the foundation will own the property and the DNR will hold a conservation easement there. The agreement will allow both to preserve the land for their common interests and will allow for more recreation there while protecting the site from development.
At Oxbow, McCain said, the dam, covered bridge and mill will provide an "obvious recreational opportunity," a new direction for the foundation.
"The foundation seems to be moving in a direction of really going for recreation," McCain concluded. "We have never really done anything like this before. We are excited about what has happened and what is to come."