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Sixty or more friends and family gathered to celebrate not only the legacy of the late Steve Richie but the dedication of a natural space he held dear, to be preserved, studied, and treasured for future generations.
The Steve Richie Nature Preserve, located off of 700 West in Fulton County (though the Richie property has a Culver addresses), contains some 40 wooded acres purchased by Richie, who died last November, and his wife Connie, a longtime (retired) Culver Elementary second grade teacher. The preserve, which was donated to the ACRES Land Trust (www.acreslandtrust.org) was officially dedicated August 10 with a large crowd attending the ceremony, followed by a luncheon at the Richie home.
Connie Richie began the dedication by explaining she and Steve had been together for 47 years, with 45 of them married, and that both of them shared a love of nature and the outdoors. In fact, she said, having land on which to enjoy nature was "more important to us than having the perfect house."
In 1974, they bought their home and five acres, adding the additional 35 acres which make up the preserve in 1986. In 1988, they planted 5,000 trees, which "has grown into this beautiful woodland," she said. In 1990, Steve Richie initiated the present trail system there, and the couple "enjoyed numerous walks and workdays there.
"It's difficult to convey the renewal and calming effect of a day in the woods," Connie Richie added. "It's a good, happy tired."
Discussing the "beauty God bestowed" on the land, Richie noted she and her husband "wanted to preserve it in its natural state for future generations."
After looking unsuccessfully for just the right means to accomplish that goal, Richie told the audience she received a "nudge from God to give it just one more shot."
The result was the discovery in January, 2013, of the non-profit ACRES Land Trust of Hunterstown, Indiana, whose Shane Perfect was on hand to discuss the organization and its plans for the preserve.
Thanking Richie, Perfect said ACRES is one of about 27 Indiana-based land trusts (though the organization maintains preserves in Ohio and Michigan as well) which take control of land and leave it in its natural state in perpetuity. Founded in 1960, ACRES is the largest land trust in the state, Perfect explained, and has five full-time employees and operates in 32 counties with a total of 5,082 acres of land, most of which is deeded to the organization.
The Steve Richie Nature Preserve is the 86th for ACRES.
Perfect also said ACRES not only protects land, but does education and outreach as well. ACRES staff will collect data from the Richie Preserve -- the second of its preserves in Fulton County -- and share the information with researchers in universities and elsewhere.
Someday the preserve will be open to the public, he added, though at present it is not.
The Rev. Don Wagner, who formerly pastored Grace United Church of Christ in Culver and whom Richie said "knows those trails as well as Steve and I," was on hand for the event, and told the crowd when he and his family left Culver for Southern Illinois, "we left Heaven."
Referencing the 24th Psalm's admonition that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness therein," Wagner said Steve Richie never regarded the land as his own, but saw himself as a caretaker on behalf of his maker.
"This is a tremendous thing you're doing," he said of the establishment of the preserve. "You planted 5,000 trees, but generations of understanding and enjoyment."
Rev. Mike Van Heyningen of the First Christian Church in Rochester, who gave a prayer of blessing over the dedication and the preserve itself, differentiated between man having dominion over the earth as stewards, rather than â€śenslavingâ€ť it.View more articles in: