YELLOW SPRINGS — Glen Helen’s more than 1,000 acreage has been preserved to remain as it is today for the rest of time by the Tecumseh Land Trust.
“It’s an extraordinary and humbling accomplishment,” Glen Helen Executive Director Nick Boutis said. “Generations of people have been learning this land, loving this place, having meaningful parts of their lives take place here and knowing that that’s going to continue forever is extraordinary.”
Glen Helen was given to Antioch College in 1929 by former student and baseball player Hugh Taylor Birch, who named the area after his daughter. It never had any formal protection until earlier this year, but the Tecumseh Land Trust has been working toward such an outcome for the last 10 years, according to its Executive Director Krista McGraw.
“It feels wonderful,” she said. “It’s so hopeful to be a part of a collaborative effort like this that succeeded, and knowing that it’ll make a difference for people in the future — it’s wonderful.”
She said the original Hugh Taylor Birch deal included a notion of protection, but it was free to be used for the benefit of the students, residents and college. After facing financial difficulties, the University sold five acres of the land in 2005 to a developer. However, the developer later realized that there may have been a mistake in the deal, leading him to gift the land back to the Glen Helen Association, which is now included as part of the protection.
“The university and college were having financial difficulties, so it was hard to say what was going to happen — so that lit a fire for me, this is serious stuff — that a piece of this land could be sold to a developer,” McGraw said. “… It was a wake up call.”
McGraw feels that preserving some areas are essential, while others make sense to face development. However, she said preserving land is beneficial as it keeps areas to be used for agricultural purposes for generations to come and secures the psychological pros of being in natural spaces, while paving can cause more flooding events.
“Asphalt in the last crop,” McGraw said. “Very rarely will you restore an area that’s been built on to a truly natural area to its native plants and animals.”
The Tecumseh Land Trust aims to preserve 50,000 acres, or one-fifth of the land mass, in both Greene and Clark County. She said according to the American Farmland Trust, this is enough to secure the farming industry in the future.
“Under the trees, its as close to what the Native Americans saw as you can find in this part of Ohio,” McGraw said. “… The river has to really stay natural, which means it’ll keep meandering and changing over time. I love our state parks … but this is being cared for in a more careful way. It’s really being maintained as much as possible in a native Ohio natural environment.”
The future will see Glen Helen upgrade its facilities, such as its Outdoor Education Center. The area is additionally facing an annexation from Miami Township into the Village of Yellow Springs for the purposes of police protection, according to Boutis. However, the Glen will not change hands within that process.
“Right now when there’s any sort of police issue the Village of Yellow Springs is two minutes away, while the Miami Township sheriff is 45 minutes away,” he said. “It would improve response time and allow the sheriffs office to focus on things that are farther away in the county and hopefully allow us to do a better job of protecting the Glen and making sure the students who visit here and the public who walks here are safe.”
Individuals behind the efforts, in addition to those associated with the college, feel that protecting the land will allow the area to continue to enrich lives of those who visit.
“Glen Helen is our regions largest, most visited nature preserve,” Boutis said. “Generations of kids have come through here and studied at the Outdoor Education Center; people have been exploring the yellow springs for hundreds of years, and there was always a cloud of doubt over [whether or not] this place would remain a preserve — and now that cloud of doubt is removed.”