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Hoosiers say nature matters to their communities

Hoosiers say nature matters to their communities Hoosiers say nature matters to their communities

“We all need to be outside. Nature is our foundation.”

“Natural areas are a get-away. They give us time to unplug and unwind and be free.”

“Having nature and somewhere to explore nature makes the community more beautiful.”

“Nature adds to the whole grand picture of life.”

“Preserving the natural areas in our communities provides a place for families to enjoy each other and just be.”

“Protecting greenspace areas is critical to improving and maintaining high quality of life. It inspires play, exercise and overall well-being.”

These are just a few of the quotes from the 1,292 Hoosiers who voted for a grand-prize winner in Oak Heritage Conservancy’s annual Nature and Farm Photo Contest.

This year’s entries showed kids playing in a clear creek on the family farm, a tree swallow feeding its young at a wildlife refuge, old barns with a sunset in the background, the milky way above a covered bridge and other common — but beautiful — sites from throughout Indiana.

The grand-prize winning photo was submitted by Sheena Grim of New Albany. Her photo shows a sunrise over a foggy Ohio River with a metal bridge in the background.

“Nature allows everyone to relax,” said Grim. “Taking pictures of nature allows me to take a break from my busy life.”

Her photo received almost 200 votes.

When people voted for their favorite photo, they were also invited to chime in about how they thought nature contributed to their community.

“We believe whole-heartedly that nature is part of what makes a community special, but we were curious what others thought,” said Liz Brownlee, executive director of Oak Heritage.

The group has nature preserves scattered throughout southeast Indiana. Some of the preserves include amenities for the community, like hiking trails and regular nature events.

Natural areas, trails and other natural amenities can be part of a community’s “sense of place,” said Brownlee. “Sense of place is a relatively new idea, but, basically, it’s what makes a community stand out. It’s the mix of the land, the history, the people, the art, the farms, the stores, the stories and the natural world that are unique to that place.

“People want to spend time in communities that have a sense of place, either as visitors or residents,” she added. “These communities often have a mixture of the arts, public walking trails, parks, independent restaurants, a sense of history, community events and more.”

One question the survey asked was: “Do you think protecting more natural areas can help a community’s ‘sense of place’?” More than 95% of people said yes.

“This definitely is not a scientific survey,” said Brownlee. “But, we’re encouraged that so many Hoosiers spoke up and said that nature is a key part of what makes their communities strong and that they want to protect more special places in their communities.”

People can turn that desire into action by getting involved with conservation, said Andy Kain, president of Oak Heritage Conservancy.

“Our members fuel conservation in southeast Indiana,” he said. “Their $25 and $40 memberships add up, and they help create nature preserves, hiking trails and nature programs for kids.”

Anyone can join their group, and each year the grand-prize winner of the photo contest receives a membership as their prize.

“Sheena is joining a growing community of nature lovers,” said Kain. “We hope that many more people will follow her lead. Right now, the first 50 new members to join get a free, limited edition Oak Heritage T-shirt so that they can tell the world that they value nature in their community.”

Oak Heritage protects natural areas, like forests and wetlands, that are free for the public to visit and enjoy. They have nature preserves with hiking trails and host nature events, like butterfly walks and scavenger hunts. Their partner on the photo contest, George Rogers Clark Land Trust, helps farmers protect their land as working farmland.

The photo contest is made possible by the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.