Some may have considered the Bodenhafer name synonymous with a willingness to exploit the environment for profit.
But now a new 8-acre nature preserve along scenic Cedar Creek will bear that same name – forever protecting land that just two years ago was at the center of a bitter battle over a 28-lot housing project called Canyon Cliffs.
“I always planned to do something like this,” said Chuck Bodenhafer, who, with wife Sharon, has donated the property to ACRES Land Trust, which works to preserve forests, wetlands and other undeveloped areas.
When Oakmont Development Co. proposed building homes on 139 acres near the creek on land owned by the Bodenhafers, some neighbors and environmentalists objected. Opponents – which did not include ACRES – even went to court to stop the project. The 8 acres adjacent to the creek, however, were never earmarked for development because they are in a floodplain, Bodenhafer said.
He could have sold the property to ACRES, but Bodenhafer said the donation is driven by a genuine concern for nature. That is what attracted him to the area in northern Allen County 25 years ago.
“I consider myself a ‘conservationist,' not an ‘environmentalist.' I've been a member of Ducks Unlimited forever. This is just something we wanted to do,” he said.
The area is home to more than 100 heron nests and will be called the Chuck and Sharon Bodenhafer Heronry Preserve.
Some critics accused Bodenhafer of having a conflict of interest in the Canyon Cliffs case, since he was president of the Allen County Plan Commission, which ultimately approved the project. But he did not participate in the board's discussions or votes on the case, and the county's ethics panel concluded he had not violated conflict-of-interest policies.
“Anybody who wants to be negative about this can be, but we're doing it for all the right reasons,” he said, noting a donation during the Canyon Cliffs battle could have been seen as an effort to influence the outcome.
Seven lots have been sold in Canyon Cliffs, Bodenhafer said, with four homes under construction. Bodenhafer still lives on a 12-acre site adjacent to the development near Coldwater and Chapman roads.
ACRES officials said in a statement they are grateful for the Bodenhafers' donation and hope to acquire as many as 1,000 acres along Cedar Creek, which has been designated one of Indiana's three natural scenic and recreational waterways. ACRES has 40 preserves in 11 counties.