This parking area at Dustin Nature Preserve is a sampling of the improvements that will be occurring at ACRES Land Trust properties.

ACRES Land Trust plans to enhance the visitor experience at about 30 nature preserves over the next four years.

The four-year plan includes improvements to signage, parking, trail maintenance and online maps and is part of ACRES' mission to inspire visitors to value, appreciate and support natural areas in the region, said a news release.

“We want visitors to access and navigate these natural areas with ease,” said Jason Kissel, executive director for ACRES Land Trust. “Prominent signage and well-maintained gravel parking lots will let visitors know they have arrived at an ACRES property. Improved trail maintenance will allow you to enjoy the preserve experience without having to wonder if you’re on the mapped trail.”

The initiative includes retiring trail systems at about 20 properties that don’t meet ACRES’ new visitor amenity standards, said the news release.

Ball Lake Nature Preserve, on the north side of Ball Lake, will be closed by the end of 2024. However, Robb Hidden Canyon, also located at Ball Lake, will undergo improvements. It features a deep, natural ravine with a stream running through it on 87.5 protected acres. The trail is 1.7 miles long.

The Richard G. and Mary H. Culp Nature Preserve near Shipshewana will also be closed to the public along with Stark Nature Preserve near Howe and Detering Nature Preserve in Kendallville.

A full list of planned closures and those preserves slated for updates are at acreslandtrust.org/raisingourstandards.

The 30-acre Lonidaw preserve on Allen Chapel Road in Kendallville and the 65-acre Edna W. Spurgeon Woodland Reserve are among five properties getting enhanced amenities this coming spring.

ACRES will end public access at closed properties by the end of 2024, said the news release. It will reallocate funds and resources used on those trails to the newly enhanced trails.

“The purpose of our trail systems is to connect people to our mission,” said Kissel. "We don’t want to miss opportunities to engage visitors. We want you to have a high-quality experience, gain an understanding of the work we do and learn how you can support the protection of natural areas.”

Trail retirements consider proximity to other trail systems, size, flooding and other challenges, as well as low visitation. Public access will end at these properties, but ACRES will continue to dedicate the same level of stewardship to these areas.

“Maintaining visitor amenities like trails and parking lots is a very small part of what we do. Protecting land involves keeping the property intact as well as natural resource management — how we maintain or enhance the health of our forests and wetlands. This includes invasive species removal and habitat restoration. That work will continue on every property, regardless of whether it’s open or closed to the public,” Kissel said.

ACRES occasionally hosts public events and members-only outings on closed preserves.

“Those properties are still worthy of visiting, but we’ll do it during the correct time of year and with a guide who can really explain the beauty of the property,” Kissel said.

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