Along The Trail 3-2-17

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Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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I had recently read a news article about the decline of Indiana’s farmland and the boom of urban sprawl in our state. Granted, most of the loss of rural and agricultural lands have been in the central part of the state, but even here in our hilly, little corner of Indiana, we’ve seen the loss of farm ground over the last several years.

According to statistics from Purdue University researchers, Indiana has lost nearly 1,000,000 acres of farm land to development and urban sprawl. Think about that for a minute – A million acres!

On average, the Hoosier state is losing over 80,000 acres per year. Anyone who has driven near Indianapolis and it’s surrounding counties can see the results of the urban growth. Businesses, housing developments, shopping, golf courses. The land developers build what the market demands. Basically if they build it, people will come.

The tax benefits to the state are great when it comes to all of the residential and suburban growth, typically more money in the coffers than the farm land generated, but at some point, money can’t be the driving factor.

What cost are we as Hoosiers willing to continue to pay when it comes to loss of lands?

I’m obviously biased when it comes to keeping our state’s rural and farming ground intact. I have a close tie to the outdoors and here in Southeast Indiana, the closest that we can get to wild places are farms. The field edges, the hills and hollers, the woodlots that make up our Switzerland County farms. Hunters and fisherman around here have always had good relationships with the local farmers, but sadly, with the decline of the traditional family farms, those connections are eroding away as well.

No one can blame anyone in the agricultural field for developing their land or selling acreage off for other use.

Not many young folks or the upcoming generation seem to have an interest in farming and without someone to pass that heritage on to, many of our long time, local farmers have sold off their operations. The landscape has changed from farm fields and fence rows to subdivisions and double wides.

Even in my small circle, I can come up with at least 300-400 acres that once were fields, pasture and woods that are now full of houses. Farm ground that I had roamed, much of it with just a handshake and permission, other paid for by cutting and housing tobacco, putting in hay or cutting a load of firewood.

Ahh, what I wouldn’t give to go back 25 years. Many of those farms now are unrecognizable, chopped up into mini farms and ranch-ettes of 5 or 10 acres, the original farm owners long since gone.

Growth in our state and region and county is great, but growth just for the sake of growth isn’t something I’m a fan of. Will we suffer the same urban sprawl that other parts of Indiana has seen? It’s doubtful given our geography and lack of highways and interstate access, but any growth or loss of farm ground here needs to be seriously weighed. Private land and the use of it is up to the owners and I am all for owners’ rights. But the emotional side of me hates to see acreage once set aside for farming, diced up and subdivided or paved over and developed. Any sort of development, no matter how big or small, whether in Switzerland County or Marion County affects its residents. Economically, environmentally and maybe even more important, socially. There is an intrinsic value to rural lands, something that money or taxes can’t buy. It’s not something that you can’t put your finger on.

There is something uniquely rural about Indiana and the Midwest in general. The agriculture and the outdoors go hand in hand and I for one hope it stays that way.

– David Hewitt