Ken wanted to be an ornithologist but his high school counselor talked him out of it. What kind of a career was that – looking at birds? Farming was a more practical and stable profession.
In the mid 1970s, Ken, an Ohio native, moved to what was once the edge of the old Limberlost
swamp in Jay County and became a dairy farmer. In the spring of 1976, Ken watched his
neighbors’ farms flood. As a boy, Ken enjoyed seeing fields with standing water because they
seemed so “full of life.” Wetlands were fascinating to him.
Ken studied old maps and discovered his land was surrounded by the old Limberlost Swamp that Gene Stratton-Porter made famous in her novels and non-fiction books. Ken credits Gene with keeping Limberlost alive in the hearts and minds of people. Ken was inspired by her writings of over one-hundred years earlier.
The Limberlost was once 13,000 acres and was created by the glaciers. At the turn of the 20th
century it was drained and tiled for agricultural and oil wells. By 1982, Ken thought that
someone should put some of the farm land that floods every year back into wetlands. Within a
couple years, he decided that he was the one to do it.
Ken continued to be a dairy farmer but with the help of his wife and kids began sowing native
grasses and planting trees on his land. He soon began sharing what he was doing with his
Fast forward to 1993, Ken with the help of a number of other people founded Limberlost Swamp Remembered. He went back to college to earn his degree and volunteered his time to make the wetlands a reality. He spoke with all 40 land owners to come up with a plan. This is where the Loblolly Marsh is today. His first fund raising was “selling” one foot of “swamp” for $10. The first land was purchased in 1996 and the Limberlost Swamp Remembered became a committee of the Friends of the Limberlost State Historic Site.
Early on he sought the advice of Jane Dustin, who was one of the founders of ACRES Land
Trust. Jane told Ken to aim high with trying to restore part of the old Limberlost. She encouraged him to dream big.
The IDNR created the east central regional ecologist position for Ken. Ken loved creating
wetlands and teaching the next generation about the cycles of life there. When Ken retired in
December 2013, there were almost 1800 acres of restored wetlands around Geneva. He has also encouraged and helped Ben Hess who took Ken’s place as east central regional ecologist.
Naturalist Curt Burnette called him “The Keeper of the Limberlost” and penned a poem in his
honor at his retirement.
On October 3 2015, Ken was honored with the Earl Brooks Conservation Award by the Indiana Audubon Society. It was an award richly deserved.
Where is Ken today? He still lives on the farm facing the now restored wetlands of the Loblolly
marsh (Ken had the honor of naming the preserves around Geneva). He is currently on the
Friends of the Limberlost board and chair of the Limberlost Swamp Remembered. Like the
cycles of life, Ken has come full circle.
Gene Stratton-Porter would be pleased to know that her Limberlost Lives Again!