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Wabash River Corridor Gets a Facelift

The Wabash River frequently floods the land along its banks in western Indiana, causing untimely corn and soybean planting; and often preventing a harvestable crop. Because of long-term standing water, two areas along the corridor are not planted at all. Thanks to a partnership effort, the land along the Wabash River is experiencing a facelift, a change for the better. 

Several years ago, the Vermillion County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and an Eli Lilly Corporation environmental committee began meeting with NRCS to develop a conservation plan for the land. The Eli Lilly Corporation owns over 200 acres of Wabash River bottomland at their Clinton Lab facility in Vermillion County, Indiana. NRCS developed a conservation plan for the partnership and set a goal to develop and improve wildlife habitat, while continuing to farm part of the cropland.

Conservation plan was developed for land between Wabash River and Eli Lilly Corporation's Clinton Lab facilityRight: Conservation plan was developed for the land between
the Wabash River and Eli Lilly Corporation’s Clinton Lab facility.

The initial step in the plan was to plant a small 10-acre field, that had limited productivity, with warm season grasses and wild flowers. This was completed through a partnership of wildlife groups, SWCDs, and the Eli Lilly environmental committee. Since then, this area has been used several times for outdoor environmental education events for local students.

In order to complete the most comprehensive conservation plan possible, NRCS completed a detailed topographic survey of Lilly’s bottomland using survey grade GPS equipment. Because the smallest difference in elevation can make a significant difference in survival of planted trees, the one-half foot contour interval map that was developed from this survey proved to be the most valuable conservation planning tool available. Areas of tree planting and the species to be planted were planned based on the elevation in hopes of improving survivability during long duration flood events. This topographical survey was also used to develop engineering plans to restore and enhance three open water wetlands on the property.

Because of the Adjusted Gross Income provisions of the Farm Bill, Eli Lilly was not eligible for most USDA program payments and had to rely on outside funding sources to complete the planned practices. In the summer of 2010, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced the Healthy Rivers Initiative. With this initiative, the State of Indiana would purchase up to 43,000 acres of Wabash River and Sugar Creek bottomland from the Wabash Landing Fish and Wildlife Area on the Vigo/Sullivan County line to Shades State Park on Sugar Creek in Parke County. The goal of the Initiative was to provide a continuous wildlife corridor, as well as protect valuable bottomland wetlands.

A phone call from Governor Daniels to the CEO of Eli Lilly precipitated an agreement between the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Eli Lilly Corporation to develop much of the bottomland into wildlife habitat, while continuing to farm the remainder with IDNR managing the property for public access.

A partnership of IDNR, local contractors, wildlife groups, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will provide financial assistance and in-kind assistance to complete the planned practices of wetland restoration and plantings of trees, riparian buffers, and warm season grasses. NRCS will continue to provide technical assistance on the project by completing the engineering plans for the wetland restoration and overseeing the construction of the wetland project.

warm season grasses planted in Wabash River corridor

Right: Warm season grasses were planted along
the Wabash River (in background) corridor.

One word sums up this success story—partnership. Because of the partners foresight and dedication, this project will provide benefits to the local environment and the Wabash River basin for generations to come.

Pam Davidson, Public Affairs Specialist, and Don Donovan, District Conservationist; May 2011