Jim and Nancy Carpenter: Local Conservationists on Repurposing Wolf Run Golf Club

May 2021

This month, we are pleased to feature longtime Zionsville residents Jim and Nancy Carpenter on the cover. The Carpenters founded Wild Birds Unlimited in the early ’80s and have lived in Zionsville since 1987, where they raised their two daughters. The Carpenters are avid nature conservation enthusiasts who share a passion for the great outdoors.

Jim and Nancy Carpenter

When the land that is now the Carpenter Nature Preserve (formerly the Wolf Run Golf Club) was put on the market by its previous owner, Stan Burton—who had plans to redevelop the property located at the southwest corner of U.S. 421 and State Road 32—the Carpenters saw an incredible opportunity to purchase the 216 acres and rehabilitate it into a wildlife and nature preserve.

Burton was denied a rezoning request by the Zionsville Town Council and Zionsville Plan Commission in 2018. He had proposed redeveloping the former 18-hole course into a neighborhood comprised of a maximum of 360 single-family homes and mixed-use buildings. The Carpenters had a different vision and legacy in mind for the property.

On a recent visit to the property, we were in awe of how quickly nature had taken over the once meticulously manicured fairways and putting greens. The former club house and adjacent structure are locked and boarded up—creating a hauntingly spectacular backdrop. It is a phenomenal sight; all of the native plant life and trees have reclaimed the land throughout the sprawling hills and creek beds, and there are scores of a variety of wildlife that have reestablished habitats throughout the Carpenters’ nature preserve. While onsite, the Carpenters introduced us to John Schaust, chief naturalist at Wild Birds Unlimited and formerly the naturalist at Holliday Park in Indianapolis. Within three hours, Schaust identified and cataloged 58 different bird species throughout the property.

Jim and Nancy Carpenter

Conservationists at Heart

In the April issue of Zionsville Matters, we featured Nancy Carpenter in the “Meet Your Neighbor” article that discussed Nancy’s previous work with the Zionsville Green Space Foundation and her current involvement with the establishment of the Zionsville Parks Foundation that is awaiting its official designation from the IRS.

The Carpenters are the sponsors of Newfields’ Spring Blooms and the brand-new 10-acre Wild Birds Unlimited Native Pollinator Meadow, also at Newfields in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park that is currently being developed and will have free admission to the general public.

“Ever since we got married in the early ’80s, we’ve been trying to preserve habitats,” Jim shared. “We were involved with the Hoosier National Forest and Indiana Forest Alliance back in the ’80s. We were also involved with the Amos Butler Audubon Society and with their Birdathon.”

Jim explained that they helped raise money and awareness for the society to purchase thousands of acres in Costa Rica.

“In the early 2000s, we bought land down in Brown County near Story, Indiana—about 48 acres—that we donated to the Nature Conservancy and its contingent with Hoosier National Forest so they can manage through the forest bank, appropriately, for wildlife, songbirds and native plants.”

The Carpenters also own land in Colorado that is part of a cooperative conservation effort.

“We’re saving about 5,000 acres with a group of other landowners,” Jim said. “We personally bought in 1,000 acres, and we are always looking for conservation buys. We had been looking in Indiana, but—until this opportunity became available—there wasn’t anything [in Indiana] that we thought would work for us.”

Nancy added, “Especially in Boone County—there’s not a lot here except along the stream corridor of Eagle Creek. So much of [the area] is flat and farmland. So, when we heard about this [property], we knew this would be such an amazing opportunity.”

Jim and Nancy Carpenter

Rehabilitating the Land

The Carpenters shared that the ultimate dream would be to rehabilitate the land and create what does not currently exist in the way of pollinator gardens and prairie areas while expanding the forest and wetland areas throughout the property. And to eventually create an official park and possible nature center for the town of Zionsville and surrounding communities to enjoy.

“Imagine being able to come out here and walk your dog or just yourself and take a stroll,” Jim said. “In 20 years, this will be a really nice wetland and forested area that will make up for what was destroyed.”

Both husband and wife are working with the Town of Zionsville, Town Council and Zionsville Parks and Rec Department on the potential development of a future park and nature center concept, utilizing the existing structures if they are deemed structurally sound and salvageable.

Nancy added, “Once we get the Town Council and Parks board out here, we would love to think of ways to bring different groups within the community to come out and experience this.”

The Carpenters emphasized that the success of their proposed nature preserve and potential park will heavily depend on the municipality’s and the community-at-large’s support of their efforts and advocacy. Meanwhile, they are moving forward with their rehabilitation efforts, utilizing their own personal resources and connections.

“One of the things that we are going to do is create a couple of exciting habitats,” Nancy enthused. “We have a company that’s going to come in and create a pollinator area with native pollinator plants by the [former clubhouse] in what used to be a practice putting green. It will create beauty and excitement. So, when we bring people out, they can see the possibility of what some rehabbing and bringing in some native planets will do.”

Nancy continued, “We realize that the town is not ready to buy the property. They could not get the bond issues or funding, and we knew that if somebody didn’t pick this up and at least hold it, it would get lost. And we’re having so much fun with this. It’s such a rich experience, and we’re meeting wonderful people in the community, so what a great thing to be involved in, and we’re loving it!”

As part of their personal and professional mission statement, Jim expressed, “Bringing people and nature together is our mission. I think it’s become our DNA to restore and make a difference. You can easily make the decision to make a difference. Here, we might be creating that which never was here. And we are open to ideas that will work to bring people together with nature.”

Nancy concluded, “My parents and grandparents taught me, ‘To whom much has been given, much is expected.’ We’ve been so fortunate—why not spread that around? It’s so important to leave that legacy and to leave the planet a little better than when you arrived if you can.”

As the Carpenter’s nature preserve progresses and as their plans become more concrete, Zionsville Monthly will follow up and share with our readers and fellow residents the exciting news and developments as they arise.