Dutro-Ernst Woods is a 31-acre urban nature preserve on the site of the former Ernst Nursery in Muncie, IN. It is dedicated to the Ernst Family and Ruth Dutro, a local biology teacher who inspired countless students. The walking trail crosses through a restored prairie, young forest, and wetland. Because of habitat restoration efforts, native plant
and wildlife populations are increasing and beginning to thrive. Song sparrows, garter snakes, swallowtail butterflies, and deer are often seen and heard along the trail.
The western half of Dutro-Ernst Woods is a forest. Visitors can see massive oak and mulberry trees. The entire eastern half of the nature preserve is undergoing a transformation from a vacant former
nursery into a native Indiana prairie. Prairies are part of Indiana’s natural history. They used to dominate 15% of the landscape. But that unique prairie habitat has been almost entirely lost. Less than 1% remains.
In the winter of 2020, Red-tail Land Conservancy planted seeds of native grasses and flowers in the eastern half of the nature preserve. This is after several seasons of intense restoration: tilling up the soil repeatedly to remove weeds from deep in the ground.
As the grassland plants and flowers begin to grow over the next few years, Red-tail will regularly mow and burn them. This makes sure the new plants are using all of their energy to grow deep roots rather than using energy to flower. A thick root bed is the best way to keep
invasive weeds from growing.
By 2025, a thriving colorful prairie with black-eyed susans, wispy native grasses, and patches of pink and orange milkweed will rise from the ground. Dozens of species of birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife will benefit from the food, water, and shelter in this restored habitat.