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August 7, 2020

7/8/2020 12:02:00 PM
New Selmier forester finds fulfillment in managing renewable resources
Ben McKinney stands next to a sign near the Selmier State Forest main office where he now works.—Staff Photo by Kylan Higgs.
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Ben McKinney stands next to a sign near the Selmier State Forest main office where he now works.—Staff Photo by Kylan Higgs.
Kylan Higgs

Forests are once again covered in vibrant green foliage as spring blossomed and cleared the path for summer throughout the state, and many people are in desperate need of fresh air. For those who reside in Jennings County, there are plenty of places to take a walk and enjoy the scenery. If you find yourself at Selmier State Forest, near St. Annes Golf Course on 905 E CR 350 N in North Vernon, you may run into the new property manager Ben McKinney.

Like many who live in rural areas, McKinney grew up loving the great outdoors. He enjoys hunting, fishing and hiking. "I like being outside," McKinney explained. "Even when it's raining or snowing, I love seeing the seasons change and being out in the different seasons.

"There are several things I enjoy," McKinney continued, "I take pride in managing the natural resources of [Selmier] state forest, the state, and this country. He also has a passion for managing a renewable resource that can be used and ensuring that generations following will be able to use as well.

With such an appreciation for nature, forestry would certainly be an ideal career path. Interestingly, however, being a forester was not McKinney's first choice.

"I started my college career in computers," the property manager admitted. "During my first few semesters, I realized I didn't want to be behind a computer all my life." Around the same time McKinney was having this realization, he met some students who were majoring in forestry. As someone who has always enjoyed the outdoors, he discovered the subject fit his personality well, and decided to change his major.

"Once I switched to majoring in forestry, I knew I had made the right choice."

While he was still in college, McKinney had a few interactions with a local district forester. These interactions helped him realize that he would enjoy being a district forester (DF). After graduating, he worked as an assistant DF for several months before getting a full-time position with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). From that point, he worked his way up to a DF position, as the District Forester for Jackson, Washington, and parts of Jennings County. Once the previous property manager Rob McGriff left Selmier's, Ben asked to take on those duties as well.

As a district forester, McKinney is responsible for administering the Classified Forest and Wildlands Program. This program is a voluntary program for landowners with at least ten acres of continuous forested acreage. There are rules that the landowners have to maintain for obtaining a property tax deduction and McKinney's aid in managing the forest.

As the Property Manager for Selmier, he is also responsible for the upkeep of the property, timber marking, supervising staff, and many other minor property duties. McKinney's short term goals for the property are to upgrade signage, grade and possibly gravel the main forest road, and kill as much of the invasive plant species that have been encroaching onto the property.

Though Selmier is one of the smallest state forests at 350.4 acres, McKinney believes it still has a lot to offer.

"Selmier has a history dating back to Mr. Frank Selmier in the early 1920's. That history is what I love about this State Forest.

"Mr. Selmier was a unique individual and the house I live in (which he built) is as unique as he was."

McKinney enjoys going down to the Muscatatuck River, which borders the park; the fishing is decent; and the rock outcrops along the river are cool-perfect for an easy and fun afternoon spent with the kids!

Many can agree that the great outdoors has truly been a sanctuary during these uncertain times, a safe way to get out of the house and soak in the sunshine and fresh air.

As the state continues to reopen, all information on any current closings and how the DNR plans on reopening all of their facilities can be found on the DNR website.

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