For the past 100 years, the Blatchley Nature Study Club has perhaps been one of Noblesville’s best kept secrets. At least that’s the opinion of club president Rick Towle.
The Blatchley Nature Study Club was started in 1922 by Dr Earl Brooks as a social club with nature-related elements and has since had over 100 members, who meet in a clubhouse tucked away down a winding road in the north of Noblesville, where a private 15-acre nature sanctuary serves as an oasis of calm in a rapidly growing town.
The natural area includes 2 miles of trails, wildlife such as foxes, owls, salamanders and woodpeckers and over 40 species of wildflowers and over 25 species of trees.
“I think with the 100-year storyline, it puts us in a class of its own in terms of nature organization,” Towle said. “As far as I know, there’s nothing else like it.”
When the club was founded, it was called Hamilton County Nature Study Club. Members met twice a month. The first meeting involved a nature-related presentation and the second meeting was for social purposes and was often held in people’s homes. The clubhouse was built in 1965.
One hundred years after its beginnings, the club has combined presentation and social components into one monthly meeting. There are various special events, such as hikes, wildflower walks, and membership drives.
“We have one of the best varieties of wildflowers in the state of Indiana,” Towle said. “They’re all slowly starting to pop.”
Presentations were given by staff from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and organizations equipped for wildlife rehabilitation, among others. Hamilton County Superintendent of Natural Resources and Education Amanda Smith recently presented facts and myths about nature.
“He tackled some of the best known or well-known nature myths,” she said. “Like owls can turn their heads all around or the baby birds will be abandoned if you touch them because the parents smell on you, those kind of myths.”
Smith said the club does an excellent job of preserving the collections of important nature figures, such as Brooks and Willis Blatchley, for whom the club is named. Blatchley was a renowned Indiana naturalist.
“The club itself is amazing,” Smith said. “I joked that it’s like the Nature Templars in Hamilton County. I don’t know his equal either. There’s Audubon (groups) and different societies, but since it’s a small, private group of people, I know they’ve done a lot to preserve those collections.
Smith said that from the Parks Department’s perspective, she is grateful for the club’s sanctuary.
“It’s right along the White River, across the river from Potter’s Bridge (park), and it provides an extra layer of habitat protection,” she said.
Club meetings are held at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the clubhouse, 125 Boulder Dr. Annual dues are $35. Fees include full use of the private grounds, which are not open to the public. However, guests are welcome if accompanied by a club member.
“Members can just enjoy what’s going on here,” Towle said.
Towle, who has been a member since 2005, said the club is working diligently to maintain the trails and make improvements. The trails follow the White River and Fox Prairie Creek.
The club has seen an increase in membership since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was one of those places where you could hang out and be outdoors and still socialize within reason,” Towle said. “We didn’t have meetings, but people could come and hike and get away for a bit.”
Members range from elementary school children to people in their mid-70s.
“It’s kind of a hobby,” Towle said. “It’s a nice place to get away from it all without having to go to Brown County or Turkey Run (state parks).”
Several events are planned this year to celebrate the club’s 100th anniversary.
“We want to make sure people understand what we’re doing, and it’s a very important event these days to understand the land and the region around us,” Towle said. “We see development everywhere. It becomes the island in the middle of the mass development in the county. It’s a nice place for anyone who wants to go out.
Notable members include Eli Lilly, the grandson of the founder of Eli Lilly & Co.; Charles Deam, Indiana State Forester; American landscape painter Frank V. Dudley; and conservationist Richard Lieber, founder of Indiana’s state park system. Most current members reside in Hamilton County, but membership is spread across the state.
To find out more, visit the Blatchley Nature Study Club on Facebook.
Upcoming events and programming
- 7 p.m. on April 28: Meet at the Blatchley Clubhouse. The presentation is about the club’s namesake, Willis S. Blatchley.
- 1 to 5:30 p.m. April: Spring wildflower walk at Blatchley Clubhouse and sanctuary.
- 7 p.m. on May 26: Meeting at the Blatchley Clubhouse on “Owls of Indiana”.
- 7 p.m. on June 23: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Bird Watching in South Africa”.
- 7 p.m. on July 28: Meeting at the Blatchley Clubhouse on “Birdwatching in Panama”.
- 10 a.m. August 13: Butterfly ride, location to be determined.
- 7 p.m. August 25: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Adventures in Bird Training”.
- 9:10 September: Sanctuary cleaning at Blatchley Clubhouse and Sanctuary.
- 7 p.m. September 22: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Antarctic Field Research”.
- 4:00 p.m. October 8: Autumn hike and bonfire at Blatchley Sanctuary.
- 7 p.m. on October 27: Meeting at the Blatchley Clubhouse “Living with the coyotes”.
- 7 p.m. on November 17: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Why our rare plants are rare”.
- 6:30 p.m. December 15: Potluck dinner Christmas party, location to be determined.