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Epic Tale Played Out in Greene County

Hoosier Perspectives

Restoration of wetland was 60 years in the making.

Published on: March 8, 2010

Whether you are one that believes restoring wetlands if the farmland is marginal or not, you surely can at least appreciate the magnitude of what was celebrated in Greene County just a few years ago. The Natural Resources Conservation Service held a day-long celebration marking the end of restoration work on the biggest restored wetland in Indiana. It's one of the biggest restored wetland in the Untied States. Locals know it as the Goose Pond, and now people all over the country are learning about it, especially bird lovers and dedicated bird watchers.


Some 7,000 acres plus of mostly flat land stretches out south of Linton in Greene County, much of it lying on both sides of Indiana highway 159. Exactly how God made the area is up for debate, but one thing is clear. It consists of soils and topography that guarantee that in its natural state, it's going to be wet.


The idea of finding such a large tract of level, flat land in southern Indiana has tempted many farmers over the past century and beyond to try to tame this area, although much of it was naturally wet in the beginning, and convert it into productive farmland. According to local accounts, at least 10 different farm operations tried to make it work in the past 60 years. Several unique attempts at draining it go back many years. Yet one after one they all gave up, some of them going broke in the process.


The most famous former owner of the Goose Pond was the late Eugene Smith. The high-flying farmer of the late 1970's attempted to drain it by working with a contractor who installed gravel under tile lines. His attempt failed as well. He lost the farm, and it reverted to the company backing him financially, Prudential Life Insurance. Maurice Wilder, Clearwater, Florida, bought it in one chunk from the company. Later, after a series of twists and turns worthy of a soap opera, he enrolled it in the federal Wetland Reserve Program. That allowed NRCS to become involved. It took 10 years for engineers from both NRCS and other groups to complete restoration.


Local opinions on what should have happened with the Goose Pond still vary. But it's evident that many who saw flat land and wanted to farm it forgot one lesson. They apparently didn't check soil maps. A large chunk of the acreage is mapped as a soil that is 40 to 80% clay! Folks, that's approaching modeling clay. A soil is considered 'clay' at 35% clay.


Not only are soils with that much clay hard to farm, they're nearly impossible to drain. Water just won't pass through the soil at any kind of rate needed for farm drainage. And one local farmer at the celebration noted that the higher soils, the so-called better soils are of a soil type that makes most farmers cringe in the rest of the state when they hear it –Zipp soil. That's because it's heavy with a lot of clay itself, and very wet. And those are the higher soils in this case!


The one lesson I came away with from attending the celebration last week was that sometimes it just doesn't pay to buck Mother Nature. Man can do a lot of things with modern technology. But he can't reinvent the basic resource- the soil- given to him in his location. It would appear that whether you agree or not, the vast 7,000 acre tract is now back in a use it was intended for- supporting waterfowl. Already, the area is breaking records for attracting large numbers of a wide variety of unusual birds.


Soil maps, whether paper maps or on the Web, are there for a reason. Sometimes we need to study our lessons more closely.