ACRES Land Trust protects 7,000 acres in Indiana and neighboring states.

ACRES Land Trust is exploring the creation of a 300 to 500 acre nature area that could accommodate multiple uses by Allen County nonprofit organizations.

The Foellinger Foundation of Fort Wayne deemed the idea worthy of a $39,050 Breakthrough Grant that will help ACRES take the next steps in exploring the concept.

“This shared nature development idea came to ACRES through frequent requests by nonprofits seeking our help or partnership in acquiring and/or maintaining land or creating mixed use trails,” Executive Director Jason Kissel wrote in a blog post on the land trust’s website. “Many nonprofit services benefit from easy access to large natural areas, yet the capital and ongoing expenses of owning and maintaining land and trails are prohibitive. A dedicated nature development would allow organizations to share common land, freeing each organization to concentrate on their mission and strengths rather than acquiring and managing land.”

Groups using the land will include youth development groups, animal rehabilitation organizations, equine therapy services, wellness organizations, running groups, wilderness groups, educational organizations, homeschool groups and retreat leaders and others.

“This model offers benefits to many individuals in our community by giving the nonprofits that serve them access to land,” Kissel wrote. “We suspect this model, based on for-profit development models with shared central resources like golf courses or mixed-use retail surrounded by housing, will work well as a nonprofit tool for community enrichment and service.”

The grant will allow ACRES to investigate the possibilities with the aid of a facilitator, said Heather Barth, ACRES director of fund development. The process would explore community needs, the management of the property, the relationships with participating nonprofits and of course, the financial requirements.

It could be that the process determines that ACRES would manage the shared property, or it might work better for a real estate firm to manage it, Barth noted. “It depends on who would be the best to pull it off.”

ACRES also envisions the property having a shared meeting space and equipment that would be made available to all tenants — spaces such as a board room, community room, kitchen and community office with equipment like a large-format printer and document shredder.

“Of course, because we are ACRES and believe in the power of nature in learning and growth, the property would also include multi-use trails, a community garden and outdoor class space – amenities that ACRES cannot offer on existing nature preserves,” Kissel’s blog post said.

The natural area concept aligns with ACRES’ mission to protect natural areas and encourage an appreciation for those spaces.

“We value a growing awareness of people’s place within and responsibility to the natural world — the intrinsic and diverse benefits of natural places and the life they sustain,” Kissel said. “We facilitate individuals’, families’ and communities’ compelling desire to preserve our local land. And we believe in supporting other nonprofit organizations in our region with this innovative facility.”

The project could be the first of its kind.

“We are unaware of a comparable example to this vision anywhere else in the country,” Kissel said.

No site has been selected yet, Barth said. The grant has a 12-month lifespan, giving the land trust, the nonprofits and other interested parties plenty of time to explore the concept.

The Foellinger Foundation Breakthrough Fund is a $500,000 initiative to support people-focused ideas that create a significant impact on the residents of Allen County.

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