In June 2010, former Governor Mitch Daniels announced the ground-breaking Healthy Rivers INitiative, the largest land conservation initiative to be undertaken in Indiana. The initiative includes a partnership of resource agencies and organizations who are working with willing landowners to permanently protect over 43,000 acres located in the floodplain of the Wabash River and Sugar Creek in west-central Indiana and over 26,000 acres of the Muscatatuck River bottomlands in southeast Indiana.
These projects involve the protection, restoration and enhancement of riparian and aquatic habitats and the species that use them, particularly threatened, endangered, migratory birds and waterfowl. This initiative will also be beneficial to the public and surrounding communities by providing flood protection to riparian landowners, increasing public access to recreational opportunities, such as hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, boating, and bird watching and leaving a legacy for future generations by providing a major conservation destination for tourists.
Wabash River and Sugar Creek
The more than 43,000-acre project area for the Wabash River and Sugar Creek corridor begins along the tributary Sugar Creek at Shades State Park travelling southwest where it joins the Wabash River. Following the Wabash River south-southwest, it ends at Fairbanks Landing Fish & Wildlife Area south of Terre Haute. The project area follows 94 river miles along the Wabash River and stretches across five counties: Montgomery, Parke, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties.
The Wabash River and Sugar Creek corridors contain many of Indiana’s rarest fish, mussels, birds and plants. Bald eagles and great blue herons nest along the land adjacent to the river and the wooded valleys are home to rare forest bird species, such as the Cerulean warbler. The Canada yew, Eastern hemlock and white pine are all ice age remnants that are now rare in Indiana; however they are abundant along Sugar Creek.
The more than 26,000-acre project area along the Muscatatuck River, known as Muscatatuck Bottoms is bounded by the intersection of the Muscatatuck River with Interstate 65 and State Highway 31 on the east side flowing westward to the Jackson-Washington State Forest on the west side. The project area stretches across three counties: Scott, Jackson and Washington counties.
The Muscatatuck Bottoms provides habitat for a number of species of conservation concern, including such birds as the least bittern, yellow-crowned night heron, red-shouldered hawk and Cerulean warbler. Two state endangered reptiles, the Kirtland’s snake and copperbelly watersnake, also are found here. The state-endangered plant, the featherfoil can also be found here. Muscatatuck Bottoms contains the largest least-fragmented complex of bottomland forest remaining in Indiana. This bottomland forest is made up of several species of oak, hickory and sweet gum.