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Indiana dedicating $25 million in conservation funding, largest ever amount for the state

The conservation investment by the state will ensure Indiana's people have new spots and places to get out and explore while protecting the environment for years.

INDIANAPOLIS — The state will be investing millions of dollars in protecting and conserving Indiana's land and waterways, which will protect the environment and give your family more spots to get out and explore nature.

"We're on a short track to spend a lot of money," said Tom Laycock, director of land acquisition for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. 

Indiana is dedicating $25 million toward acquiring land for conservation areas, nature preserves and parks.

“The $25 million is, right now, the largest investment in conservation ever in the state of Indiana,” Laycock said. 

That massive investment is grabbing the attention of conservation and environmental protectors across the state, including the Indiana Land Protection Alliance. 

"It's such an important investment and knowing that our state is thinking about this and making it a priority, I mean this is the direction that we need to be going," said Andrea Huntington, executive director at the Indiana Land Protection Alliance. 

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With the pandemic leading to crowded campgrounds and trails all around Indiana, conservation advocates say there's a real need for more natural spaces all around the state.

“During the pandemic, you couldn’t even get into most of our state parks because the lines were too long, you had people picnicking in parking lots at nature preserves. It was a very clear demonstration of the need of more outdoor recreational opportunities within the state,” Laycock said. 

Huntington said land trusts in the ILPA protect more than 158,000 acres of land across the state of Indiana, much of which is open to the public with access to hiking trails, bird watching spots and places for people to get out and enjoy nature.   

But when it comes to investing and funding conservation of land and waterways, Huntington said Indiana has fallen behind neighboring states like Wisconsin. But this $25 million could help change that. 

“We need to be thinking about this, not just what this $25 million can do, but we need to be looking at this long term, what that sustainable source of funding might be. And again, this investment, these are being protected for the people of Indiana. All of our communities, all of our regions are benefiting from these types of initiatives,” Huntington said. "This is going to help them to maybe create new conservation areas, but also important expansion of existing projects in protected areas."

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Hoosiers like Chris Lupton are excited to have more places in nature to explore.

"I think it's fantastic to be able to get out and enjoy the parks and trails for exercise and leisure. It's wonderful," Lupton said. 

Lupton, who swung by Fall Creek Trail Wednesday afternoon for a trail run on his lunch break from work, said he loves to get out and enjoy these green areas and believes others may do so, too, if there are more of them around. 

“There’s pretty trees, scenery. It’s an easy way to just take a quick jaunt off an urban area and get out, within minutes you’re in very pretty and natural scenery,” Lupton said. "It might bring a more vibrant crowd to Indy as well."

Visit Indy said it's possible this kind of an investment could bring in tourists to the area along with residents as they visit new greenspaces and natural areas. 

“Research shows visitors continue to gravitate toward outdoor spaces, including Indy’s numerous parks and waterways,” said Nate Swick with Visit Indy. “Any time our greenspace and park system can grow, it will help Visit Indy attract additional visitors while adding to the quality of life for our residents.” 

Already, Laycock said he's getting applications and portfolios outlining projects and potential conservation ideas coming in. 

"I had one conservation organization that's already sent me a portfolio of $19 million worth of projects," Laycock said. 

Laycock said the DNR conservation runs off a slim budget, sales from the conservation license plate bring in only around $1 million annually in funds. 

“So we live on a fairly short budget a lot of times," Laycock said. "So we are hoping this will be a good demonstration to everyone that conservation funding, a permanent conservation funding source is needed in the state of Indiana, a significant source."

The conservation investment by the state will ensure Indiana's people have new spots and places to get out and explore the state while protecting the environment for years to come.

“Conservation is the biggest part of this to me, making sure we’re protecting the environment," Laycock said. "And a lot of these projects, when you look at the scoring rubrics and different things, they do involve protections of watersheds, protections of habitats, protections of fish and wildlife species. It does help, these will all help the environment."

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