Back to Nature: Fishers couple spends free time helping preserve native habitat


What started as a one-time volunteer gig planting trees at a Central Indiana Land Trust preserve has become a shared hobby for Fishers residents Teresa and Gary Barkwill.

It all began at Meltzer Woods, a CILT site in Shelbyville.

“We were just super impressed,” Teresa Barkwill said. “They were very well organized. They helped educate about who they were, what they did, what they like to accomplish. We loved it, and so, then we decided to kind of do more volunteer stuff.”

They both have irregular working hours, though — Teresa is a nurse at Community Health North and Gary is an Indianapolis firefighter. That means scheduled volunteer opportunities don’t generally work out for them.

“We just decided to try to get in touch with this specific property (Oliver’s Woods) and just see what could we do that we can come out and just do on our own,” Teresa said.

Gary added that they’re both in “pre-retirement,” which means they no longer want to work, but they have to — at least for another year or so.

“One of our big things was — this helps us get through this last year,” he said. “This is what we kind of want to do when we do retire.”

The couple’s main contact is CILT staff member Grace van Kan, who suggests what they can work on when they are able to come to Oliver’s Woods. It involves a lot of removing invasive species — a constant and recurring need because those species don’t give up easily.

“We concentrate on pulling winter creeper and honeysuckle,” Gary said. “It was kind of easy for her to be able to spend little time with us, just to say, ‘This is what honeysuckle is, this is what winter creeper is, this is how we want you to do it.’”

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Teresa Barkwill, left, and Gary Barkwill spend many of their days off from work at Oliver’s Woods, clearing invasive species and improving habitat for native flora and fauna. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

Oliver’s Woods is a 53-acre site at 8825 River Rd. in Indianapolis. While traffic from I-465 can be heard in the background, the preserve was peaceful on a late-March morning, with birds singing in the trees, waterfowl flying low along the White River and spring flowers popping up on the forest floor.

Van Kan said the site was donated to the trust by Oliver Daughtery after he died in 2009. He had been approached several times to sell the property, which is worth millions to developers, but — according to an informational sign at the site — he said, “The world doesn’t need another shopping mall.” Now that it’s a CILT property, it will remain a nature preserve in perpetuity.

When CILT first received the property, van Kan said honeysuckle was everywhere. A lot of work went into getting Oliver’s Woods ready for the public, and it opened in 2022. Because the site was Daugherty’s home, his house remains and is available as an event space. Van Kan said the site includes a canoe launch for access to the White River and a discussion circle — a large, circular stone bench that faces the river.

She said the space is unique because it’s in the middle of the city.

“A lot of people don’t get the chance to drive two hours out to another nature preserve or state park or something like that,” she said. “But we have great areas here that are representative of a nice, healthy hardwood forest in Indiana. We have trillium that comes up and tons of wild ginger, flowers that you maybe don’t see in a landscaped yard. We also get a lot of really cool wildlife, I’m about to put up another trail camera in front of one of these burrows over here where we’ve seen mink, otter, raccoons, groundhogs, possums, all in the same burrow. It’s a really cool area.”

Oliver’s Woods also has a short trail — just over half a mile — and the first portion leading to the discussion circle is ADA accessible.

Teresa and Gary Barkwill are about to start a new project at the site. In addition to monitoring and removing invasives, they will start a native-plant garden at Daugherty’s former house.

“Because there is a house on this property, which is way different, I guess, than any other property (CILT) owns, it opens up an opportunity to do some education for people — what can you do in your own backyard,” Gary said. “It’s a big push going on in the country or the world right now, to get people to do more natives — get rid of the plants that we don’t need, that aren’t doing anything for any animals or bugs, and put in the good ones that are native here.”

He hopes visitors can see they can make a big difference in small, affordable ways.

“And, if everyone does it, it makes the world better,” he said.

Teresa said that, while they live in an apartment now, she wished that she’d known about the benefits of native plants when they had a house.

“We would have done stuff completely different if we had known all of these things,” she said. “This is a great way to showcase how accessible it can be and how beautiful and low maintenance.”

The two started volunteering in fall 2023, which means this is the first spring for them to experience at Oliver’s Woods.

“We’re really excited to kind of see it through all the seasons,” Teresa said. “There’s something really special about that, when you have a place that’s so close that you can come out and just see how it changes throughout the seasons.”

And, as a CILT preserve, they’ll be able to observe the seasonal changes at Oliver’s Woods for many years to come.

For more about CILT, visit

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Gary Barkwill, left, Teresa Barkwill and Central Indiana Land Trust staff member Grace van Kan at the parking area for visitors to Oliver’s Woods, 8825 River Rd., Indianapolis. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

CILT properties in central Indiana

Central Indiana Land Trust preserves nature sites throughout the middle of the state from Lafayette down to the border of Brown County. One of its premier sites is Meltzer Woods in Shelbyville, an old-growth forest with trees that haven’t been disturbed for more than 150 years.

In Fishers, the trust manages Nonie Werbe Krauss Nature Preserve, which is open to the public, and Eller Farm, which is not.

Nonie Werbe Krauss Nature Preserve is at the southwest corner of 116th Street and Eller Road, behind Riverside Elementary School, 10910 Eller Rd. It offers about 2 miles of easy trails.