Fort Harrison State Park: Illegal Trail Construction in Chinquapin Ridge Nature Preserve
An unauthorized trail was constructed in Chinquapin Ridge Nature Preserve. The trail spanned about 1.5 miles. The nature preserve is designated to remain undeveloped to provide habitat for rare species and species that require blocks of forest for nesting and finding food.
Two men have been charged in connection with building and maintaining the trail. As in any criminal case, the individuals are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
This FAQ sheet provides information about the park’s purposes, the nature preserve, mountain biking, and the unauthorized trail.
Nature Preserves and Trails in Indiana State Parks
- Aren’t trails and public access a good thing?
The mission of Indiana State Parks is to conserve, manage and interpret our resources while creating memorable experiences for everyone. So, yes, trails and public access are important, but so is the conservation of land, habitat and native species that make each park unique.
Fort Harrison State Park contains 1,700 acres. The two protected areas without public trails total only 250 acres, or about 15 percent of the park. About 85 percent of Fort Harrison is developed for recreational use. There are large picnic areas, a lake for fishing, a sledding hill, horse-back riding, a museum and visitor center inside historic Camp Glenn, a golf course and restaurant, an inn and rentable houses. Two of the four dedicated nature preserves in the park have multi-use trails for hikers and mountain bikers. Chinquapin Ridge Nature Preserve is one of two preserves with no trails, designed to protect plants and for native wildlife.
- When and how were the nature preserves created at Fort Harrison State Park?
The preserves were dedicated in 2011. They were first conceived as a part of the park development plan in the late 1990s following an assessment and determination that the areas included important habitat for rare species. Including nature preserves in our state parks is part of our charge to conserve and manage natural resources. Because the park was originally federal land and DNR needed to obtain a deed from the National Park Service, the preserves were held internally as protected land without official dedication.
The dedication process includes presenting a proposal to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC), the rule-making body for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The proposal is listed on the NRC agenda, which is posted publicly at www.IN.gov/nrc/2350.htm before the meeting. The meeting is public, and anyone can speak about agenda items at the meeting. Following NRC questions and approval, articles of dedication are developed and recorded along with a master plan for the preserve.
The master plan for Warbler Woods Nature Preserve included foot trails and the existing hard-surface Harrison Trace Trail. The master plan for Bluffs of Fall Creek Nature Preserve included potential foot trails in the future. The master plan for Lawrence Creek Nature Preserve included a multi-use trail proposed by HMBA. The master plan for Chinquapin Ridge excluded trails to protect the rookery and other species and topography.
- What is so important about Chinquapin Ridge Nature Preserve?
The Chinquapin Ridge Nature Preserve protects the stream corridor of the Fall Creek Valley and an important block of forested habitat in Indiana’s Central Till Plain. Several native and rare plants and animals are found in this nature preserve. One of these species is the state- and federally endangered Indiana bat which has been documented on site, indicating the possibility of a maternity colony in summer. There are also two state-endangered mussels in Fall Creek and a rookery (nesting area) for great egrets and great blue herons, both federally protected migratory birds. The state-endangered cerulean warbler and two state watch-listed plants have also been documented in the preserve.
- A trail through the woods seems pretty harmless. Why not allow trails in Chinquapin Ridge?
Some ground-nesting birds require minimal disturbance for successful nesting. Hiking and biking creates disturbance. Other species need blocks of forest that aren’t fragmented by trails for nesting and looking for food. Trails can result in the establishment of invasive plants as seeds are tracked in on boots and bike tires. Species such as Asian bush honeysuckle and Japanese stiltgrass displace native species.
Indiana State Parks and Mountain Biking
- Does Indiana State Parks support mountain bike trails and mountain bikers?
Yes. Off-road cycling trails provide great opportunities for outdoor recreation, healthy exercise and social experiences. We have worked closely with the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association (HMBA), the Northern Indiana Mountain Bike Association (NIMBA), the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association (KMBA) and the Southeast Indiana Mountain Bike Association (SIMBA) to develop mountain bike trails in appropriate locations around the state.
As responsible stewards of natural resources, we consider acreage available, potential impact to sensitive natural or cultural sites, soil conditions and slope, existing trails and facilities, visitation, compatible uses and a variety of other factors in evaluating proposed trails. We currently host trails at the following state parks: Fort Harrison (6.5 miles), Brown County (29 miles), Versailles (17 miles), Potato Creek (7.4 miles), O’Bannon Woods (14 miles) and Harmonie (10 miles). We have a short trail, primarily for kids, and jump track at Spring Mill State Park. There are mountain bike trails in several state forests, and the DNR Division of Outdoor Recreation permits mountain bike use at Redbird and Interlake State Riding Areas. A non-rule policy document, approved by Indiana’s Natural Resources Commission provides guidance for the development and use of trails. That document is at www.IN.gov/legislative/iac/20070214-IR-312070081NRA.xml.pdf.
- How did you decide where to allow mountain bikes at Fort Harrison State Park?
HMBA brought a proposal to Indiana State Parks around 2005. The original proposal contained a request for trails in several areas of the park, including the area that is now Chinquapin Ridge Nature Preserve. The DNR initially approved construction of about 3 miles of trail in the Schoen Creek drainage, and denied approval of trail construction in the area that contained the heron rookery (now Chinquapin Ridge Nature Preserve) because of State and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service guidelines for distances required to prevent rookery disturbance. We undertook a study to evaluate the potential impact of mountain bike trails on ground-nesting birds in the Lawrence Creek area. Following the results of the study, which looked at three options for trail design in Lawrence Creek, we approved the construction of a modified multi-use (mountain biking and hiking) trail in Lawrence Creek that closed the existing trail (mostly an old Jeep route established by the military), and reduced the HMBA-proposed trail construction mileage to leave a largely intact forest interior, which is what those ground-nesting species need most.
- What has been the response to multi-use trails?
Mountain bikers and hikers both use trails in Lawrence Creek Nature Preserve and in the Schoen Creek area. It is a rare day that hikers and bikers are not both out on the trails. The project has been successful.
- Are there plans to add trail mileage at Fort Harrison?
No, not for hiking or mountain biking. The park is limited in size and surrounded by neighborhoods and businesses in the city of Lawrence. Additional development is not anticipated.
There have been discussions about a community trail connection through a park entrance gate and on to Boy Scout Road.
- Is there a charge to use the multi-use trails?
All guests must either purchase an annual entrance pass or pay daily admission when the gate is open. Off-road cyclists must purchase a daily or annual permit to use trails. Learn more about the off-road cycling permit and why it was established.
Information Regarding the Unauthorized Trail
- What actions were taken to create the unauthorized trail?
A trail was excavated and benched in. Excavated soil material was scattered. Soil compaction on the trail occurred. Vegetation was removed, and herbicides were illegally applied to widen the trail.
- Have any criminal charges been filed relating to the unauthorized trail?
Yes. Two men have been charged in Marion County with Criminal Mischief (Level 6 Felony) and Criminal Trespass (Class A Misdemeanor) following an investigation by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Law Enforcement.
- How was the trail discovered?
The park’s property manager discovered the trail while conducting a routine boundary inspection of the nature preserve.
- Will others who used this unauthorized trail be charged?
No. However, use of the unauthorized trail is prohibited. The trail entrances have been closed and will be monitored to ensure the trail is not used. People who do not comply with park rules and enter the preserve for hiking, biking or fishing may be fined or ejected from the park.
- Where can I find additional information?