The Nature Conservancy has closed a western Indiana nature preserve that features dramatic walled canyons because visitors flocking to the scenic area have overused the site and trashed it with litter.
In early July, crews with the nonprofit organization put up chains and felled some trees to block the entrance to the Fall Creek Gorge Nature Preserve, located about 10 miles east of the Illinois state line in west-central Indiana’s Warren County.
A section of the preserve commonly known as The Potholes — so-named because it features sandstone canyons with circular pools of water — had been in “heavy use” for years as a destination for hikers, said Dawn Slack, director of stewardship for The Nature Conservancy in Indiana.
But lately, whether driven by people looking to escape outside during the coronavirus pandemic or for some other reason, she said that traffic — and all that comes with that — had increased significantly.
“We saw a spike, really,” Slack told the Journal & Courier. “We worked with law enforcement to put up signs about parking and rules for using the property, but it just wasn’t happening. … It just got to be too much.”
Camden resident Derek Lane, who visited the preserve with his family days before it was closed, said they found trash scattered in its small parking lot.
“There were water bottles, diapers, alcohol bottles, fountain drink cups and food wrappers everywhere,” he said.
Slack said the preserve is now closed “indefinitely” and that step will protect its trails from erosion, while also safeguarding the site's rare plants to prevent them from being trampled.
She said The Nature Conservancy, which has cared for the preserve since 1973, would monitor it to see when it makes sense to clear the trees blocking access and restore access.
“Right now, it needs time to heal," Slack said.