Marbachs donate acres to expand ‘Touch the Earth’

Photo provided Terry Marbach walks one of the Touch the Earth trails with his grandson.

Sycamore Land Trust has received a gift of 10 acres of land from Connie and Terry Marbach of Columbus to add to the Touch the Earth Natural Area public nature preserve.

The 10-acre parcel fills in a gap at the center of the preserve, which is open to public visitation for free, and expands the size of the preserve to 108 acres.

“The public needs places where they can recreate and ‘re-create,’ ” the couple said of the donation. “The COVID crisis has made this very clear. There are very few places in the county where people can take a 2-3 mile walk away from man-made interference.

The donation reflects the passion the couple has for protecting land for the benefit of the public, as well as the plants and animals that live there or migrate through the property.

The parcel features a native wildflower and grass meadow that is visible from the existing public trail, which the Marbachs created by removing harmful invasive plants and planting native species to benefit wildlife.

“The work to establish a pollinator meadow on the 10 acres came about because Touch the Earth Natural Area has lots of great wooded areas but lacked an abundance of wildflowers,” they said.

In the 1990s, the Marbachs enabled Sycamore Land Trust to acquire the farmland that would become Touch the Earth Natural Area. The property is now one of the largest natural areas open to the public in the county, where thousands of visitors each year explore its 1.9-mile hiking trail to connect with nature.

The preserve has an improved parking area and new educational kiosk completed in 2021, courtesy of funding from Bartholomew REMC.

Sycamore Land Trust has stewarded the property to become a diverse habitat of successional forest and open meadows. Recent habitat restoration projects at the nature preserve include removing invasive species and conducting a prescribed burn, supported by a grant from Cummins and other funders.

The preserve provides important early successional forest habitat for rare and threatened species of plants and wildlife, including the elusive American woodcock, which can be spotted at the preserve this time of year (in early spring) doing their remarkable “sky dance” mating display at dawn and dusk.

The Marbachs visit Touch the Earth Natural Area often and are involved in Sycamore Land Trust’s land stewardship projects to restore native habitat, maintain trails, and build bridges, kiosks, and benches for public use.

“Connie and Terry have put so much work into the health of their land, restoring it from a degraded agricultural field to a thriving native grassland and pollinator habitat,” said Rob McCrea, land preservation director at Sycamore Land Trust. “Sycamore is honored to be entrusted with the care of this area and excited to share it with the public as part of our Touch the Earth Natural Area. This land donation protects the future integrity of this nature preserve because of its location near the center of the preserve. It also increases the overall habitat diversity of Touch the Earth, which Sycamore manages to support a variety of habitat types.”

“The 10 acre gift is in recognition of and acknowledgment that the land was taken from Native Americans centuries ago,” the Marbachs said. “When we dedicated the original acquisition in 1990, we said, ‘From the beginning of time until the early 1800’s, this land belonged to no one. Now 176 years after it was first surveyed, this land once again belongs to no one.’ Rather, it is for the use of everyone, thanks to Sycamore Land Trust.”

They added: “Hopefully, as part of a land trust, Touch the Earth Natural Area will always be here providing a place where nature can pass through its natural cycle undisturbed. An area free from the intrusion of blacktop, malls, billboards, and nightlights; where the sycamores can grow untouched, the birds can soar far and wide, the deer can graze at leisure, and the wildflowers can delight us with their blooms.”