Glen Helen parlays grant funds into big upgrades

YELLOW SPRINGS — Only two years after being thrust into a financial crisis with the closure of Antioch College, Glen Helen Nature Preserve has in the past few months lined up more than $500,000 in federal, state and private grants to modernize buildings, restore a signature scenic trail and clear out acres of invasive plants.

When work finishes in the next 18 months, the preserve will have undergone the most extensive remake it has ever received, said Director Nick Boutis. The 1,000-acre glen, which attracts 100,000 visitors annually, includes a 25-mile network of footpaths, 400-year-old trees, and limestone cliffs with waterfalls.

The Inman Trail will undergo a rebuild; a geothermal heating and cooling system is being installed along with insulation and new windows for buildings that haven’t been updated in decades; and miles of invasive plants will be eradicated.

Smaller grants will fund restoration at a pre-Civil War quarry and education programs at the preserve.

The geothermal project has wider implications. A revived Antioch College is checking out the feasibility of using geothermal power to heat and cool the campus. The glen could be an important local demonstration project for using geothermal on a larger scale, Boutis said.

Two years ago, Glen Helen Nature Preserve was told that it had to survive on its own with the closure of Antioch College. The national financial crisis didn’t help much either.

Glen advocates feared that the college’s demise would strip the Glen of life support overnight as student labor and funding disappeared.

Since then, alums have purchased Antioch College and the Glen came attached to the sale. The Glen stepped up with financial support and a grant-seeking campaign.

Now, it seems, a page has turned. The Glen, courtesy of more than $500,000 in new grant funding, is rebuilding and enhancing its facilities.

The projects include:

  • A $289,000 Department of Energy federal stimulus grant matched with $107,000 in private funds to drill 40 wells 400 feet deep for a geothermal heating and cooling system. Insulation, new windows and new lighting for the Trailside Museum and Glen Helen Building are included. The improvements will save $11,380 and 36 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
  • A $70,000 Ohio Department of Natural Resources Ohio Trails grant to restore the Inman Trail, rebuilding stone steps, restoring washed out areas and improving signage. The trail hits the Yellow Springs and the Adena culture's Orators Mound.
  • A $71,000 grant from the Nature Conservancy matched with $30,000 in private funds to eradicate invasive plants such as honeysuckle and burning bush along two miles of the Little Miami River.

Altogether, the projects have built momentum for the Glen.

“We’ve been trying to turn this entity around for years. These recent successes with grant funding give us hope we are making progress on things that have been a long time coming,” Director Nick Boutis said.

If you add up this latest grant funds to earlier fundraising for buildings and scholarships over the past few years, the total is about $1 million, said Bill Kent, a retired electrical engineer and secretary of the Glen Helen Association.

“There’s no question that has changed our outlook. It feels like we’ve turned the corner here. We are coming out of a big hole,” Kent said.