John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve, Portage, Indiana

John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve sign

Formless is not the correct term, but there is a certain lack of definition at the John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve. Like Tolleston Dunes a former sand mining facility, this piece of nature feels unfinished and new, like a baby trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up.

John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve trail

The mowed grass path bleeds into the undergrowth, which rambles up to and into open fields, with occasional marshy areas or ponds interspersed. Somehow the demarcation expected between each part of the whole is blurred, with no one single type taking control.

John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve slideshow:

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This hazy definition of a landscape is both unsettling and yet exciting, as what appears to be one thing could be two or more, mixed together unexpectedly. Few of the watery areas are wide open, but rather are filled with plants or trees. It’s hard to tell where the wet begins and the dry ends.

John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve tree info

Even the parking for the 92-acre property is a barely there turn-off with a gravel base. I’m sure the majority of drivers zipping by don’t see it, let alone stop.

However, it’s best not to underestimate this dedicated state nature preserve in Portage.  The site is a mixture of oak savanna, sand prairie, and interdunal wetlands which support over 400 species of plants. That’s some serious diversity and a result of the sand mining in the 1930s.

John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve wetland area

The result of the digging was a disturbance of the area and an opportunity for rare species to creep in, returned to a habitat almost exclusively composed of native plants.

Directions to the Preserve:


This preserve is maintained by the Shirley Heinze Land Trust.


2 thoughts on “John Merle Coulter Nature Preserve, Portage, Indiana

  1. First of all, “this piece of nature feels unfinished and new, like a baby trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up,” is such a fantastic turn of phrase.

    Secondly, I love so many spots like this, where the majority of people drive by unaware of what they’re passing.

    1. Those semi-secret spots are so important, right? Hopefully everyone has at least one in their life.

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