The Moraine Forest Legacy Area: Answering the question of how to save the Moraine Forest really involves how would one establish a public identity for a large, mostly privately -owned resource, like the Moraine Forest of La Porte and Porter counties? There are a number of models for how such an undertaking would be accomplished. Attached is a map of such a project on a MEGA-scale. (See Map 11.) This mega-scale example is the Yellowstone to Yukon Corridor. Obviously, anything that encompasses covering a territory this large would have to be greatly scaled-down to be adapted to a resource merely covering parts of two counties. Yet, many of the principles used for this mega-corridor can also be used for the Coastal Counties' Moraine Forest:
Respect private property ownership. The Moraine Forest, like the Yellowstone to Yukon Corridor, involves land mostly in private hands. It is crucial that forest owners do NOT see such efforts as anything resembling a "taking". That can doom or seriously impede many vitally important activities. The "buy-in" of private owners can be critical to its success. The widespread use of the IDNR Classified Forest/ Wildlands Program in this Moraine Forest is strong evidence of the desire of forest landowners to keep their land forested. (See Maps 6 & 7.) Making private owners feel that they are partners in this effort and that they can benefit from its continued existence is essential for its success.
Educating the Involved Community. There are numerous works that one way or another describe the ecological, recreational, aesthetic, and economic value of the Moraine Forest. The attached excerpts of one such work by Vicki Meretsky of Indiana University (Read the full report here). The maps for this study alone clearly illustrate the ecological value of many parts of this Moraine Forest especially those in the forest's northeastern portion.
Respect Different Sustainable Forest Uses. Obviously, recreation and conservation/ecology are at the top of the list of values achieved in saving the Moraine Forest. But not every portion of it is suitable to serve as a trail or a bike path. Nor is every portion suited to be a nature reserve. When such suitable portions are found, certainly every effort should be made to encourage achieving those ends. Yet, for other portions, the value of working forests, woodlands for erosion control and other purposes that are not primarily aimed at recreational or ecological goals can nonetheless have great value. Indeed, such forests -- even if not pristine or easily traversed -- often have multiple secondary values in which recreation and ecology can play an important part.
Develop a Forest Preservation Team. Enlisting and coordinating with other entities that are primarily involved in preserving forested lands for recreational and/or ecological purposes. Land trusts, county park depts, hiking/biking clubs., birding organizations and sporting groups can all play important roles in preserving such natural resources.
Link Eco-Friendly Economic Enterprise to Moraine Forest Preservation/Conservation. There are a number of types of private enterprise for which the presence of the Moraine Forest is mutually beneficial. Many of them are essential parts of the tourism-related economy. Hotels, motels, hostels, restaurants, vineyards, fruit farms, and even ecologically designed residential developments. Forested settings provide an ambiance that can substantially add to their attractiveness for their customers -- especially those who reside in very urban areas like Chicago. This ecological-economic relationship cannot be understated.
Don't let Early Setbacks End These Efforts. That time-honored saying "Rome wasn't built in a day" is so very true. Neither is a resource-saving effort of any magnitude. In any project worth doing success can often be closely accompanied by failures. But persistence can pay off, in the end. So don't be discouraged and don't give up.
The largest remaining semi-contiguous forest remaining north of the Wabash Valley -- with all of the recreational, ecological, aesthetic and economic value. We can either find workable, compatible effective ways to conserve it, or we can watch it gradually be winnowed away into oblivion, rather like that other remarkable historic Coastal County natural resource -- the Hoosier Slide, the largest of the Indiana Dunes -- did. The Hoosier Slide disappeared into nothingness almost a century ago, because no effective, realistic effort was made to save it. The choice is ours to make.