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Preserving the past

Big Oaks Conservation Society
to sell limited edition photo
of historic arch to support preservation

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

(May 2006) – In 1995, after 54 years as an ammunitions testing ground, the U.S. Army closed the Jefferson Proving Ground, which lies in Ripley, Jennings and Jefferson counties in Indiana. In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under an agreement with the Army and U.S. Air Force, opened the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge on the northern end of the former Jefferson Proving Ground.

Big Oaks Conservation Bridge

Photo provided

Big Oaks Conservation Society is
selling this limited edition framed
photo taken by W.P. Branham as
a fund raiser for preservation.

With 51,000 acres, Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge contains the largest unfragmented forested block in southeastern Indiana and some of the largest grassland areas found within the region. The refuge is home to more than 200 species of birds, 46 species of mammals, 24 species of amphibians and 17 species of reptiles. Several of these wildlife species are on endangered or special concern lists.
Joe Robb, manager of the refuge, said that while the wildlife refuge has been open to the public for several years, many people in the surrounding area still do not know of its existence. In addition to the conservation efforts at the refuge, there are wonderful educational and recreational opportunities available for the general public, he said.
Part of the refuge, about 4,000 acres in the northeastern section, is open to the public and provides opportunities such as boating and fishing, hunting white-tailed deer and wild turkey, bird watching, hiking, guided tours and environmental and educational programs.
A non-profit group, the Big Oaks Conservation Society, was formed shortly after the refuge opened by people concerned about it. The group’s goal is to help develop educational programs and enhance public awareness of the refuge. Big Oaks Conservation Society has developed a fund-raising program called Project ARCH, to promote the awareness of the refuge and to help raise funds to support it. The group also hopes the publicity from Project ARCH will draw visitors to the refuge.
George Terlinden, president of the society, said there are about 100 members dedicated to providing support for the refuge. The members volunteer for various tasks at the refuge, including working the gates for special events and general cleanup around the sanctuary. Members are also involved in bird counts, and they help to rid the refuge of invasive plant species, which choke out the plants native to this region. The society co-chairs the annual Youth Turkey hunt and sponsors the Take A Kid Fishing Day. The society also helps host the annual Outdoor Women at Big Oaks program, which is aimed at providing women the opportunity to learn and participate in outdoor skills.
The group, also called friends of the refuge, decided a fund-raiser involving photographs of key sites in the wildlife sanctuary would help raise publicity in addition to generating cash to help financially support it. James Gilley, chairman of Project ARCH, said the main goal of the project is to network with other organizations and encourage additional users to the refuge.
Fine arts photographer William Paul Branham Jr., of Sellersburg, Ind., was commissioned to do the photography in Project ARCH. Branham, who owns W. P. Branham Photography, selected one of the stone arch bridges that exist in the refuge as the signature piece of artwork for the project. He said that he concentrated on using the bridge as a symbol of the refuge because of the need to protect the historic structures in it. There are between five and seven of these magnificent bridges throughout the wildlife refuge.
Ironically, while ARCH is actually an acronym for Arts, Recreation, Conservation and History, it aptly names the project because of the stone arches in the bridge that was photographed.
While visiting Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge on April 11, U.S. Interior Acting Secretary Lynn Scarlett was presented with the first limited edition print of the photograph. Another print is on display at the main branch of River Valley Financial Bank on Clifty Drive in Madison.
Terlinden said there will only be 125 of the limited edition prints. Each print will cost $80 unframed and will be shipped in the tube directly to the purchaser. There is also the option of purchasing a framed print for $225. The society is also providing the opportunity to receive a print shipped in the tube for anyone establishing a $200 life membership in Big Oaks Conservation Society. Normally, a membership costs $150, so this will allow a person to save on the cost of the print. He also said the society has left open the possibility of having future photographs taken of several of the historic bridges and possibly other historic structures within Big Oaks Wildlife Refuge.
Anyone interested in purchasing a limited edition print of the bridge photo can contact April Gilley at projectarch@hotmail.com or George Terlinden at (812) 273-1483 and leave a message with a return phone number.

• Anyone interested in more information about the Big Oaks Conservation Society can visit: www.bigoaks.org. Those interested in information about Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge should contact the refuge at (812) 273-0783. Anyone interested in W. P. Branham Photography can visit: www.wpbranham.com.

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