Federal judge preserves land in Steuben County with ACRES
A U.S. District Court judge has extended 50-year history of conservation to ensure that it lasts long beyond our time. Working with ACRES, William Lee has permanently protected 84 acres of Steuben County land as the Lee Family Perfect Lake Nature Preserve, ACRES announced.
"I'm motivated by this whole concept of doing something perpetual, permanent, of something that lasts," Lee said in a news release announcing the preservation of the land. "Especially in today's culture. Forever? That's pretty neat."
"ACRES promises never to sell or develop this land," ACRES Executive Director Jason Kissel said in the same release. "ACRES members help us stand by the promise our founders made in 1960: together, we will protect this place for good." The Perfect Lake preserve will be closed to the public.
Lee joined ACRES in 1967. He purchased the Steuben County property in early 1970, a few months before he was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, and only weeks before the first Earth Day.
"I knew people would be in my office wanting to prosecute water polluters," he says. "At the time, there was no Environmental Protection Agency, so I devised a sort of Rube Goldberg plan, a system for prosecution. I set forth steps to put together evidence, investigative guidelines based on the Refuse Act of 1899, and it worked."
Lee's work won three cases on water pollution, defeating U.S. Steel, DuPont, and a local refinery. His efforts earned him the Izaak Walton League of America National Conservation Award in 1972.
"The Perfect Lake land was a personal retreat for renewing my spirits," he said. Lee enjoyed walking, cutting brush, mowing, maintaining his personal trail, sometimes fishing (mostly bass), and observing from "little interesting spots along seasonal streams."
"The place is an environmental wonder in terms of diversity," he said. An upland forest surrounds an esker running the preserve's length; both overlook a small lake, a high quality fen, a sedge meadow, and a marl flat.
He's seen a couple of foxes, plenty of wild turkeys and quail, many deer and he's watched swans from a neighboring pond visit Perfect Lake. Once, while out walking, he scared off a coyote.
"One of the most interesting things I saw was a beautiful ring-necked pheasant. And I watched a bald eagle catch a 10-12 inch bass it could barely handle, then struggle to fly off with it. I remember coming upon baby beavers swimming around. When their mother saw me, she circled, slapped her tail on the water, and they all disappeared - slick as a whistle," Lee recalled.
"Through Steuben County Soil and Water Conservation District publications, I became aware of the federally endangered white cat's paw pearly mussel. I understand the only place in the world it is known to exist is the Fish Creek waAtershed, of which my lake is the headwaters."
"You know, it's interesting that land can just 'be there,' not be cluttered up," Lee said in the ACRES release.
ACRES said that Lee protected his land with the organization through “a significant bargain sale.” The Bicentennial Nature Trust and Steuben County Community Foundation provided additional funding.