For the past 100 years, Blatchley Nature Study Club has perhaps been one of the best-kept secrets in Noblesville. At least, that’s the opinion of club president Rick Towle.
Blatchley Nature Study Club was started in 1922 by Dr. Earl Brooks as a social club with nature components and since has grown to more than 100 members, who meet at a clubhouse nestled off a winding road in northern Noblesville, where a 15-acre private nature sanctuary serves as an oasis of calm in a city that’s quickly growing.
The nature area features 2 miles of trails, wildlife like fox, owls, salamanders and pileated woodpeckers and more than 40 species of wildflowers and more than 25 species of trees.
“I think with the 100-year scenario, that puts us in a class by ourselves in terms of a nature organization,” Towle said. “As far as I know, there’s nothing else like it.”
When the club was founded, it was called the 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 reasons and often was held at people’s homes. The clubhouse was built in 1965.
One-hundred years after its start, the club has combined the presentation and social components into one monthly meeting. There are various special events, such as hiking, wildflower walks and membership drives.
“We have some of the best wildflower diversity in the state of Indiana,” Towle said. “They’re all slowly starting to pop.”
Presentations have been given by staff from the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources and organizations equipped in rehabbing wildlife, among others. Hamilton County Supt. on Natural Resources and Education Amanda Smith recently presented facts and myths about nature.
“It tackled some of the more widely known or thought of myths about nature,” she said. “Like owls can turn their heads all the way around or baby birds will be abandoned if you touch them because the parents smell you on them, those types of myths.”
Smith said the club does an excellent job of preserving collections by important figures in nature, such as Brooks and Willis Blatchley, whom the club is named for. Blatchley was a renowned Indiana naturalist.
“The club itself is amazing,” Smith said. “I’ve joked that it’s like the Knights Templar of nature in Hamilton County. I don’t know of its equal, either. There are Audubon (groups) and different societies, but this being a private little group of people, I know they’ve done a lot to preserve those collections.”
Smith said from a parks department 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 added layer of habitat protection,” she said.
Club meetings are at 7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the clubhouse, 125 Boulder Dr. Annual membership dues are $35. The fee includes full use of the private grounds, which aren’t open to the public. However, guests are welcome if accompanied by a club member.
“Members can just enjoy what’s out here,” Towle said.
Towle, who has been a member since 2005, said the club works diligently to maintain the trails make improvements. The trails follow the White River and Fox Prairie Creek.
The club has seen a surge in membership since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was one of those places you could get out to and be outdoors and still socialize within reason,” Towle said. “We didn’t have meetings, but people could come out and do hikes and get away from it a little bit.”
Members range from grade-school children to people in their mid-70s.
“It’s a leisure time sort of thing,” 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 birthday.
“We want to make sure people understand what we do, and it is a really important event these days to understand about the earth and the area around us,” Towle said. “We see development everywhere. This is becoming the island in the middle of mass development in the county. It’s a nice place for anyone who wants to come out.”
Notable members have included Eli Lilly, the grandson of the founder of Eli Lilly & Co.; Indiana State Forester Charles Deam; American landscape painter Frank V. Dudley; and conservationist Richard Lieber, founder of the Indiana state parks system. Most current members reside in Hamilton County but membership is spread across the state.
For more, visit the Blatchley Nature Study Club on Facebook.
Upcoming events and programming
- 7 p.m. April 28: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse. Presentation is on the club’s namesake, Willis S. Blatchley.
- 1 to 5 p.m. April 30: Spring wildflower walk at Blatchley Clubhouse and sanctuary.
- 7 p.m. May 26: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Owls of Indiana.”
- 7 p.m. June 23: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Birding in South Africa.”
- 7 p.m. July 28: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Birding in Panama.”
- 10 a.m. Aug. 13: Butterfly walk field trip, location to be determined.
- 7 p.m. Aug. 25: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Adventures in Bird Training.”
- 9 a.m. Sept. 10: Sanctuary clean up at Blatchley Clubhouse and sanctuary.
- 7 p.m. Sept. 22: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Antarctic Field Research.”
- 4 p.m. Oct. 8: Fall hike and bonfire at Blatchley sanctuary.
- 7 p.m. Oct. 27: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse “Living with Coyotes.”
- 7 p.m. Nov. 17: Meeting at Blatchley Clubhouse on “Why Our Rare Plants Are Rare.”
- 6:30 p.m. Dec. 15: Potluck dinner Christmas Party, location to be determined.