- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. (AP) - A 60-acre wooded area with trees that were already old when Indiana became a state is coming under official protection, with plans for opening it up to the public during the state’s bicentennial year in 2016.

The land in central Indiana’s Shelby County is the state’s last patch of unprotected old-growth forest, according to the Central Indiana Land Trust.

The property known as Meltzer Woods includes a 100-foot-tall bur oak that experts estimate is 400 years old. Another tree - a centuries-old, 102-foot-tall black ash - is the largest such tree in Indiana, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

The land trust is buying the forest from Phil Meltzer for about $380,000, with most of the money coming from the state’s Bicentennial Nature Trust.

Cliff Chapman, executive director of the Central Indiana Land Trust, said he has worked for years with the Meltzer family to preserve the woods.

“In the 21st century, saving a place like Meltzer Woods is as close as we can get to knowing what it was like when our state was settled,” Chapman told The Indianapolis Star. “This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done, or ever will do.”

The property is among 12 small sections of old-growth forest across Indiana that have never been cleared, totaling 980 acres, according to state records. Other sections are owned by the Nature Conservancy, the state DNR and Purdue University.

The 88-year-old Meltzer was born and grew up in a house on the family’s farm adjacent to the woods in a rural part of eastern Shelby County, some 25 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

Meltzer, who has a son and a daughter, said he wanted to ensure that nothing happened to the woods that his family bought in 1857.

“My dad liked the trees more than the money,” Meltzer said. “I do, too.”

The land trust said the family was selling the property for less than market price. The group plans to build a small parking lot in an adjacent field and open the woods to the public for hiking and nature walks during the bicentennial year.

The woods were designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973.

Shelby County Commissioners President Kevin Nigh told The Shelbyville News that preserving the woods was a good step.

“There’s not many places like that around anymore,” he said.

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