Wetland miracle unfolds in Greene County

The battle between nature and man went on for more than a century on some 8,000 acres of mostly flat, wet land in Greene County. Even if you’ve never been there, odds are you’ve heard stories about Goose Pond. It was a favorite stopover for geese before farmers tried to drain it.

“I heard about it as a kid,” recalls Ray McCormick, a farmer near Vincennes. “One farmer bought new equipment every year, and after one year’s use, held an auction and sold it. I still remember Dad and Grandpa talking about going to those sales.”

One after another, every farmer who farmed the Goose Pond land eventually gave up, many going broke. Many hadn’t yet learned their soils lessons. Much of the soil has a clay content of 40% to 80%. That approaches the consistency of modeling clay.

The first attempt to return the land to wetlands dates back to U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s efforts in 1951. Once fighting broke out in Korea, funds were diverted to the war effort.

It was the federal Wetland Reserve Program and promise of payment that convinced owner Maurice Wilder to enroll Goose Pond, but only after arm twisting by McCormick and others. Getting it signed up in WRP was more important than who would eventually own it, McCormick notes. No one in conservation had enough money to purchase it then.

Key Points

• First serious restoration attempt thwarted by the Korean War.

• During process, Ray McCormick represented Maurice Wilder.

• IDNR completed the purchase in October 2005.

Another chapter

“I hoped that was the end of the story, but it only turned out to be the beginning of another chapter,” McCormick relates.

The next step was to decide how the land would be restored. Engineers from NRCS and Ducks Unlimited, who had been granted a contract to design the restoration, disagreed. Ducks Unlimited wanted more water to encourage ducks. NRCS favored a balance of water and upland warm-season grasses, plus trees.

“That’s when Wilder called me and said it was going nowhere,” McCormick recalls. “Naturally, he was frustrated.

“My solution was simple. I told him he needed a personal representative on the ground. He asked who that might be, and I immediately responded ‘me.’”

So for the next several years, McCormick represented Wilder on the Goose Pond project. Eventually, engineers came to an agreement.

New owner

That left who would buy the property unresolved. “Once again, we thought we had a plan in 2004,” McCormick says. “Then one partner balked. So we headed into elections without a deal. When a Republican became governor, I figured it was dead again.”

It wasn’t. But not everything promised happened. Nevertheless, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources finally bought the property in October 2005. Various partners contributed funding.

Wilder received his money, and was no longer involved. “I wasn’t involved anymore either,” McCormick says. “But it was great to come back for the ceremony. This wetland will be here long after we’re gone.”

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ON SITE: Ray McCormick returned to the Goose Pond and Beehunter Marsh wetlands for the celebration of the restoration hosted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.