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Winter Overlook Who are you people?

Preservations Advocates for Terre Haute consists of people from all walks of life who are concerned with preserving the Terre Haute parcel of land.  The members are not professionals and do all this work on a strictly volunteer basis.  These people consider this issue important enough to take time out from their busy schedules to donate their time and effort.

What is Terre Haute?

Terre Haute is a parcel of land that consists of over 630 acres of mixed forest and wetlands centered around Bogus Mountain and adjacent to the Eureka reservoir.  More importantly though, it is the center of several thousand acres of undisturbed land.   To put that in perspective, the Terre Haute property is roughly five times the size of the Bethel school complex.  Overall, Bethel is roughly 11,000 acres, so the Terre Haute piece consists of roughly 1/20th of the total land area.  While this is not virgin forest, the forested sections are mature, old growth forests that are central to the local ecosystem.

Autumn colors Terre Haute also sits over a natural aquifer that many local people draw well water from.  The natural wetlands and the forest cover help make sure that the aquifer can recharge itself so that the water table doesn't drop.

Why is it currently in danger?

Terre Haute is threatened by development. Current zoning could allow many types of commercial or residential uses of the land which would permanently and negatively impact the ecology and uniqueness of Terrre Haute and the Town of Bethel. Terre Haute has also been considered as a site for a "community" golf course.  The course proposed by the Golf Authority called for a 27 hole, 18 normal holes plus a 9 hole "short" course,  professional level course consisting of roughly 150 acres.  All land in the parcel would be controlled by the Golf Authority, consisting of roughly 350 additional acres of land.

Why is preserving this piece of land so important?

There are multitudes of reasons for preserving Terre Haute in its current state.  The most important ones are  to safeguard the water supply, to provide recreation for local residents, to preserve the rural character of the town, and preserve the local environment.  Each of these is discussed in more detail in the subsections below.

Preserving Water Quality

Terre Haute drains into three different watersheds, the most important of which is the Eureka watershed. Bethel draws much of its water from the Eureka Reservoir. Terre Haute also drains into the Norwalk River and Sympaug Brook, which provide water to several other areas downstream.  By removing the buffer from around the Eureka Reservoir, many contaminants could make it into the water.  Run-off from roads could introduce gasoline, tar, oil, salt and many other chemicals.  Run-off from nearby homes could introduce pesticides, herbicides, and household chemicals not to mention all kinds of litter and yard waste.  If developed as a golf course, chemicals from that could easily contaminate the reservoir.  These include herbicides, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and other chemicals used in maintaining turf grass.

Any kind of development in the area could be a potential risk to the local water supply because of the blasting that would be necessary to level the site.  Extensive blasting might upset the water table and cause nearby wells to run dry.

Preserving the Rural Character

Currently about 36% of Bethel is undeveloped.  The undeveloped land largely consists of forest or marshy areas, not cleared lots.  If Terre Haute is developed, that number could drop to a mere 16%.  Compare this to the 1950s, when 92% of land was undeveloped (numbers courtesy of the Bethel Plan of Development).  The rapid urbanization of Bethel has changed the character of the town from that of a rural farming community to a suburban one.  Further development of such open space could result in Bethel transforming into a fully urbanized town, suffering from urban sprawl and with no clear definition of where the actual town is anymore.

Obviously that much undisturbed land contributes greatly to preserving the character of the town.  Imagine, if you will, what that land could look like fully developed.  It's currently zoned R-80, which means it could, theoretically, be broken into 250 two acre lots.  If we consider that such houses, in general, will be bought by married couples with one child (on average, since some will clearly not have children) that is 675 new people in town or roughly a 3.5% increase in the overall estimated population, or fully one third of the TOTAL growth over TEN years.

This is not an entirely improbable scenario with the current zoning of the land.  This could happen, but not necessarily in such a direct fashion.  Part of the concern with the golf course, which would have only used part of the parcel, was that it would become extremely desirable to open up the rest of the property to development so people could have mansions next to the golf course.

Growth is, in many cases, good. But by opening up that large a piece to development, extremely rapid growth could occur.  This puts a strain on the town as there would be a sudden increase in traffic, demand on city services, and an influx of children into schools.  Gradual growth allows the town to keep pace with increased demands.  As is, most growth in Bethel is fairly gradual because there are few parcels of such size available for development.  Suddenly opening up 20% of the total land area for development could be very problematic.

Recreation

More and more people are becoming interested on outdoor recreation, both as a means to relax and as a way to get some exercise.  Such a large piece of undeveloped land offers many opportunities for people to see the great outdoors without having to go very far to do so, a major plus with many people's hectic schedules.  Rather than needing to drive hours away, people can stay right in town and find undeveloped lands teeming with wildlife, interesting kinds of flora, and scenic ponds and streams.

For the more athletically inclined, this offers a large area in which to mountain bike or hike. Is it better to go to the gym and workout while staring at a wall, or have a whole woodland to explore while getting your exercise?  In its current state, it's also a wonderful area for orienteering, rock climbing, or running with your dog.  Depending upon how the land is eventually dealt with, less sensitive areas could be partially developed (primarily through the placement of trails) for horseback riding or cross country skiing in the winter.

The area is also be opened up for hunting and fishing in designated areas.  Some areas could be opened as sites for primitive camping.  There are many low impact recreational activities that could be carried out on the Terre Haute property without any further development.

While golf is a recreational activity, it is very limited one.  The proposal put forward by the Golf Authority called for a  professional level golf course, one that would not appeal to most area residents and that would render much of the property unusable for other activities.  There was, at one time, a small community golf course on the edge of the property, but it fell into disuse and an industrial park was built over much of it.  This seems to indicate that Bethel would not be able to sustain a golf course of any sort as the one they had was not used.

Environmental Preservation

Terre Haute connects to several other large pieces of undeveloped land.  Many animals depend upon large areas of unbroken land to survive.  This includes nesting areas for many birds, including migratory and song birds.  Some predators also depend on such unbroken land because they need large territories to hunt in.  Smaller predators known to be on the property are foxes, bobcats, and coyotes.   Because of the sheer extent of the property and the adjacent pieces, it could also sustain black bears and mountain lions, though none has been positively sighted on the property.  The problem with many of these species is that they are scared of people and there may only be two or three in a 500 acre area so the odds of anyone personally seeing one are slim.

Terre Haute has been partially surveyed for biodiveristy, but only plants were included in the original assessment.  Four endangered plant species were found on the property, along with many other rare ones.  Several other rare animals also make their homes in Terre Haute including spotted salamanders which rely upon vernal pools for their survival.

Vernal pools are seasonal pools that form only during the wet part of the year.  This delicate little pools are usually only a few inches deep and serve as breeding areas for many kinds of amphibians.  These pools are so crucial to these creatures because they are seasonal and thus do not have fish in them, which would otherwise eat the eggs of the amphibians.

What can I do to help?

You can contact PATH and volunteer to help educate others about this important area.  You can go use the area so other people see that it's not just useless empty land.  You can vote against measures that would open Terre Haute to development. You can write letters of support to the local media, and you can vote for elected officials who support smart growth and open spaces.


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