Cleanup Day Brings Out Club’s Nature Lovers

(The Times photo by Betsy Reason)
Noblesville East Middle School science teacher and president of Blatchley Nature Study Club Rick Towle has a chainsaw in hand as he heads for an unpaved trail with fellow club member Bill St. Dennis, to cut a fallen tree, a safety hazard, along the trail.

The weather was cold enough on Saturday morning for me to reach back into my closet and put on my winter coat, hat and gloves, and some comfortable hiking shoes.

I then drove out to the Blatchley Nature Study Club grounds to find members just getting started at their annual spring cleanup day.

I was pointed toward Phil Cartwright, who was wearing work gloves and had a shovel in his hands, preparing to start work as well as designate work. He was in charge of the cleanup day.

Cartwight, 69, joined the club 16 years ago when he and his wife moved to the area. They belonged to a similar club when they lived in Mishawaka, Wis. So when they moved here, they looked for a nature club to join. “We happened to wander by the same day they were having their wildflower walk,” Cartwright said.

How does one wander by Blatchley Nature Study Club grounds? The Clubhouse is at 125 Boulder Drive, where the road deadends in an older neighborhood off. Boulder Drive is accessible from Edith Avenue, north of the historic Potter’s Bridge off of Cumberland Road in Noblesville.

“We saw a sign up on 206th Street, and it pointed this way,” he said. “Even though we knew the road wasn’t very long, we followed the signs down and introduced ourselves and became members at the next meeting.”

(The Times photo by Betsy Reason)
Noblesville East Middle School teacher Rick Towle (right) helps guide Bill St. Dennis (left) as he uses a chainsaw to cut a fallen tree during a Blatchley Nature Study Club cleanup day on Saturday at the club grounds in Noblesville.

Cartwright loves the 15-acre property. “It is hidden back here. It’s a very nice property. It’s a surprise. Nobody knows it’s here.”

The weather was in the mid 30s on Saturday, kind of cold for a cleanup day. “It is, but our purpose … for the cleanup day early in spring is to get ready for the two wildflower walks that we host at the end of the month,” he said. “We like all of our trails and everything to be in good shape before the public comes out.”

Guided wildflower walks are scheduled for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on two Saturdays, April 16 and 30, for this year’s Spring Wildflower Walk and Centennial Celebration. (The first tour will showcase early bloomers, and the second tour late bloomers.)

(The Times photo by Betsy Reason)
Blatchley Nature Study Club members Shannon Owens (from left), Pat Towle and Brian Crosley clear debris from the club’s property in preparation for wildflower walks this month.

This year marks the 100th year of the nature study club, which was founded on April 8, 1922, by Dr. Earl Brooks. The club, which is made up of individuals who share a love of nature, changed its name to The W.S. Blatchley Club to honor Indiana’s greatest naturalist, Dr. Willis Stanley Blatchley (1859-1940). The Blatchley Nature Study Club was incorporated as a nonprofit on Nov. 12, 1941. Brooks deeded 15 acres of land to the club for use as a sanctuary and on which to build a clubhouse on March 8, 1963. The Clubhouse (built with a generous monetary gift from Eli Lilly family, who were members) and the sanctuary was dedicated on July 18, 1965. A step inside the clubhouse today, Cartwright said, “You’ll find it hasn’t changed.”

Each spring, the club leads Wildflower Walks, inviting the community to attend. Spring Wildflower Walk and Centennial Celebration in April.

Cartwright is in charge of maintenance at the Blatchley clubhouse and the sanctuary and is a Blatchley board member.

“What we’re doing is cleaning off the trails, any limbs that have fallen off in the wind lately so there’s no trip hazards. We’re improving some areas that have been eroded by filling them in. We’re replacing some boards on our bridges and steps that have also tended to rot away a little bit. We’re placing wildflower signs as we can tell where they’re going to be. Because of the cold weather, it’s going to be sort of a last-minute thing next Saturday morning prior to the walk,” he said.

What’s the weather forecast? “It’s going to be perfect weather (actually partly cloudy and highs in the mid 50s, according to the weather forecast). We’re hoping for no rain,” Cartwright said.

“All of the grounds’ early-spring ephemerals are out, (like) white salt-and-pepper flowers, really small flowers, black-and-white flecked, one of the very first that comes out,” he said.

“Folks will see Bloodroot (one of the first wildflowers to open its bright white flowers). It’ll be a little too early for the Jack-in-the-pulpits at that time; that’ll probably be at the end of the month. We see some spring anemone. It’s a little too early, until the next time, to see the shooting stars, which are on the bluff that overlooks the (White) river.”

(The Times photo by Betsy Reason)
Blatchley Nature Study Club volunteers Darlene Patterson (from left), Pat Towle, Bill St. Dennis, Shannon Owens and club president Rick Towle gather to decide tasks during a club cleanup on Saturday in preparation for wildflower walks this month.

The Club traditionally offered a single wildflower walk in the middle of the month. We’ve noticed over the years, a lot of times we’ll get wet and cold weather early, so we added a second one (walk),” Cartwright said.

Being this year’s 100th anniversary of the club, members wanted there to be two wildflower walks so there will be more available open times for the public to come out and enjoy the grounds.

Noblesville East Middle School science teacher and president of the club Rick Towle had a chainsaw in hand as he headed for an unpaved trail with fellow club member Bill St. Dennis, to cut a fallen tree, a safety hazard, along the trail.

“We had a lot of storm damage … All of these trees have snapped off, broken down, on the far side, are in the way, some visually in the way,” he said, walking the trail toward a wooden staircase built a year ago to help hikers avoid mud. Saturday’s volunteers would do cleanup until about noon, said Towle, who had been out working on the club property a couple of days prior during his spring break.

Blatchley property has just more than a mile of unpaved trails. The wildflower walks are usually a small loop and cover “a much more floral walk.”

He pointed to the area next to the wooden stairway. “We’re going to put a deck out here and a bench,” Towle said, drawing attention to a long-distance view, “across the way,” of a fox den with a family of foxes that come out and play.

Towle was born and raised in central Massachusetts, moved to Indiana and graduated from North Central High School in 1975, University of Evansville in 1979 and graduate school at Purdue University in 1985.

He was introduced to the club back in 2004-05 by Blatchley member, John Duncan, one of the parents who traveled with NEMS to the Amazon Rainforest. “Attended a couple of Blatchley meetings, liked what I saw, and joined up shortly after,” he said. “The like-mindedness of the members — enjoying and preserving and conversing about nature — really appealed to me. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Towle is looking forward to the 2022 Centennial Celebration. He said, “I am humbled by the opportunity to lead our club of nature enthusiasts into the next 100-year chapter of our esteemed organization.”

– Contact Betsy Reason at I expect to write a third column about the Blatchley Nature Study Club before the end of April, the next time featuring Joe Roberts, 89, Westfield, about the early days of the club, in recognition of the 2022 100th Celebration.

Want TO GO?

What: Blatchley Nature Study Club’s 100th anniversary Spring Wildflower Walk and Centennial Celebration.

When: Guided wildflower walks are 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, April 16 and 30.

Where: Blatchley Nature Study Club, 125 Boulder Drive, Noblesville.

Good to know: First tour will showcase early bloomers, and the second tour late bloomers.

What else: In between the two Centennial Celebration walks, Blatchley will play host to the annual Teter Wildflower Walk with free guided tours at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. or wander on your own between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. April 24 at Teter Organic Farm in Noblesville.Next club meeting: “Willis S. Blatchley” history by Chris Wirth will be presented at 7 p.m. April 28. Guests welcome.