An Indiana nature preservation organization has acquired Defiance’s Preston Island.
The Black Swamp Audubon Society, which is disbanding, donated the 23-plus acre island in the Maumee River to ACRES Land Trust of Huntertown, Ind. The transaction went through last week, according to Heather Barth, the organization’s director of fund development who addressed Defiance County commissioners during their Monday meeting.
Barth told commissioners that her organization is seeking feedback from the Defiance area and “ideas for the future use of the island.”
However, the use would be limited due to ACRES’ charge — land conservation and preservation, Barth indicated. In many places where ACRES has properties — the organization preserves 6,700 acres across northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan — it will establish trails and a parking lot, according to Barth.
In Preston Island’s case, she suggested the establishment of trails on the island. But in answering a question posed by Commissioner Ryan Mack, she also indicated the possibility of establishing a docking or beach area (for canoes and kayaks).
“It would be neat if we could make it into a destination,” said Mack.
He also asked if island access would be via water only.
“We’re not sure,” answered Barth, noting that she’d seen old photos showing access via bridge.
“We’re really excited about it, and there’s a lot of potential for this island,” she told commissioners.
Mack told Barth that Defiance city and county officials “are really working on highlighting the river.” This includes development of a bicycle trail along East River Drive/County Road 424 between the Clinton Street bridge in Defiance and Independence Dam State Park.
In an interview following commissioners’ meeting Monday, Barth said it might be a full year before the island is open to the public.
Barth explained that a “steward” will be found for the property “who will visit it regularly.”
The Black Swamp Chapter of the National Audubon Society also donated two other area properties to ACRES — Maumee River Bend Sanctuary, north of Antwerp in Paulding County, and Dunlap Woods near Montpelier in Williams County — according to Barth.
She said her organization has only six paid employees, so it relies heavily on volunteers for its work in 32 counties in the tri-state area.
A fund is expected to be set up through the Defiance Area Foundation, she told commissioners, to help ACRES locally.
Annual memberships in the organization are available at $15 for a senior citizen/student, $25 for an individual and $40 for family.
ACRES can be contacted at P.O. Box 655, Huntertown, Ind., 46748-0665. The phone number is 260-637-2273 and its email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preston Island once was a destination for various recreational activities before things were washed away by the 1913 flood. A pontoon pedestrian bridge had connected it to the mainland.