INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Natural Resources Commission has denied a petition to turn Frances Slocum State Forest into a state park in a move proponents had hoped would stop a logging project at the site.
Members of the Friends of Salamonie Forest submitted the petition in April to the commission calling for the area to be designated a state park, along with Salamonie State Forest located east of Wabash.
The petition had signatures from more than 870 residents who live mostly in north central Indiana, including people from Kokomo, Russiaville, Greentown and Tipton.
But the commission on Tuesday denied that petition after listening to testimony from foresters with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and other organizations who opposed turning the forest into a park.
Advocates of the petition argued turning the areas into parks, and stopping logging there, would allow the woodlands to become old growth forests and allow for more ecological and wildlife diversity.
Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters told the commission he believed turning the forests into parks would also create a recreational attraction that would draw more people to visit and move to northeast Indiana.
“We want to invest in places like Salamonie State Forest and Francis Slocum State Forest to have places that are worth caring about and places that are worth calling home,” he said.
Fetters joined other advocates in asking the commission to put a three-year hold on logging projects at the forests in order to give community leaders more time to investigate the advantages of having state parks in the area.
“We want an extension to give us here in northeast Indiana an opportunity to see what can be done to save these trees and save these parks for ourselves and for our posterity,” he said.
At Frances Slocum State Forest, a 91-acre tract that runs between the Mississinewa River and the forest’s access road has been pegged for a logging project, which the DNR says aims to restore native hardwood trees. The forest is made up of about 500 acres of woodlands located 5 miles east of Peru.
But some opponents argued turning the forests into parks would limit recreational opportunities such as hunting and fishing.
Cindy Stites, a board member of Indiana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, told the commission that the number of public lands which allow hunting is rapidly shrinking, and turning the forests into parks would severely limit the amount of hunting allowed on the property.
She also said logging the properties wouldn’t necessarily reduce or hurt the areas’ wildlife.
“I understand that forest management is critical … and I think with specific practices, you’re going to enhance wildlife and provide habitat and you’re not just going in and destroying things,” Stites said.
Other organizations which opposed the petition included the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Indiana Forestry and Woodland Owners Association, the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermens Association and the Ruffed Grouse and American Woodcock societies.
In conjunction with a petition to change the forests’ designation, Friends of the Salamonie also asked the state to establish a network of clearly marked trails at both sites to keep people from hiking through pristine parts of the forest.
The group said the trails are currently severely undermanaged or totally unregulated, making parts of the paths inaccessible or impassible due to patches of deep mud and gullies.
At Frances Slocum, the group also asked that the gravel road leading into the woods be paved, and trash bins and restrooms be built at the end of the road to make it more welcoming to visitors.
The commissioned unanimously voted to deny the petition and requests.
Jeff Stant, executive director of the Indiana Forest Alliance, which advised the Friends of Salamonie Forest, said in a previous interview the petition marked the first time a citizen-led coalition has asked the Natural Resources Commission to change its rules to turn a state forest into state park.