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Dream come true

Capturing the saga of Greene County’s Goose Pond would require a huge book. It’s a story of tremendous potential, bitter disappointment, drama, intrigue, politics and destiny. At least now the conclusion of this story is clear. Restoration of more than 7,000 acres of constructed wetlands is finally complete.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service sponsored a celebration to signify fulfillment of what seemed like an impossible task. Getting authority to return the land to wetlands took six decades. Planning and restoring it alone took 10 years.

“The neat thing is that we can say we’ve all been part of something that will go on much longer than we do,” says Jane Hardisty, Indiana NRCS state conservationist and a Greene County native.

Key Points

• More than 7,000 acres in Greene County are wetlands once again.

• The saga of Goose Pond reads better than many mystery novels.

• Ray McCormick was one of many who stepped forward to help.

Man behind the scenes

Ray McCormick, a Vincennes farmer, is no stranger to natural resource management. He’s currently vice president of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. But until the recent celebration, only a handful of people realized his role in reclaiming Goose Pond.

A landowner who has restored wetlands on his own land, McCormick was drawn into talks about somehow converting the Goose Pond property from crop fields back into wetlands.

“When Eugene Smith lost the farm, Prudential Life Insurance Co. took it back,” he recalls. “They sold it to Maurice Wilder, Clearwater, Fla.”

Wilder made a fortune in various endeavors, and traded and invested land. He originally purchased it as a working farm. There was even a hog operation.

State attempt falls short

McCormick was one of a small group of people who realized the opportunity to purchase Goose Pond intact from one buyer might never come again. He personally helped persuade Wilder to sell it if a group could put together the money to buy it for conservation.

“We had the money lined up for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to buy it in the mid-90s,” McCormick recalls. “There was just one catch. Burnt by bad publicity over a previous land deal in Illinois, Wilder insisted no one could find out negotiations were under way, or he would walk. We were almost there when an Indianapolis Star story declared more than $4 million had been appropriated federally to buy it. Local people with concerns organized, and the State of Indiana backed out on its agreement with Wilder.”

Wetlands reserve

McCormick helped open the door once again when the Wetlands Reserve Program came along. It offered payment for converting land to wetlands. That’s how Wilder became interested again, McCormick says. But getting from “interested” to conservation on the ground was a long, twisted path. More and more, McCormick became the man in the middle, working behind the scenes to see a dream come true.

It eventually happened, but not without more twists and turns.

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RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: Ray McCormick was where he needed to be when the future of Goose Pond was in jeopardy. More than once, he was the cool head in the middle of contentious negotiations.

This article published in the April, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.