Photograph by Steven Higgs
Destinations identified for exploration by Natural Bloomington: Ecotours & More include state and national forests, parks and recreation areas; federally protected wilderness and old-growth forests; public and private nature preserves; caves, lakes, waterfalls, scenic vistas, underground rivers and registered historic sites.

It has been more than 10 months since I declared The Bloomington Alternative on hiatus. I write today to say it will remain there a while longer as I develop a new project called Natural Bloomington: Ecotours and More. The Alternative archive, which still attracts more than 3,000 pageviews a month, will remain online. Someday, I may revive it.

But after 10 months working overtime to pay off the money changers who run our wealth-care system – I am now a cancer survivor – I have decided to commit what creative energies I have to nature for awhile. Frankly, Natural Bloomington is a way to spend as much time in the wilds as I can, with as many people as I can.

It's also about sharing the journey with anyone who cares to accompany me, virtually or in person.

To follow the Natural Bloomington project virtually, subscribe to our mailing list. You will be updated periodically about our efforts "to celebrate and share Southern Indiana's natural beauty through image, prose and ecotourism," as our mission statement says.

I have photographed Southern Indiana's natural beauty pretty much since the day I bought my first 35mm camera in 1973. The Natural Bloomington Photography page features photo albums with images of our destinations from my digital period, from 2005 to last week.

I've written about the hill and cave country since 1980, when an IBM Selectric typewriter was state of the art and I wrote an unpublished, long-from piece on the need for protected wilderness in Indiana. The Natural Bloomington Blog will document in prose this latest phase of that continuing exploration.

Last week, for example, I uploaded my second blog post (and photo album) about a hike in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest Back Country Area with Indiana Forest Alliance Executive Director Jeff Stant. 

Next week I am planning a stroll through the Latimer Woods with retired IU School of Journalism professor Dave Nord, who stewards there as a volunteer with the City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department's Adopt-a Trail Program. Latimer is a mature deciduous forest by the College Mall that city parks manages.

Teena Ligman from the U.S. Forest Service has expressed a willingness to talk. Hopefully we can do it in the woods.

Natural Bloomington's ecotourism component is where the in-person aspect comes in. And it's been a long time coming.

The idea of leading environmental tours through the region I spent four decades living in, writing about and photographing first occurred to me in the late 1990s. But it wasn't until a Chinese student lamented her lack of contact with nature during a midterm conference last semester that the long-dormant seed evolved to seedling. Since that conversation, I have:

  • Done some preliminary research on the field of ecotourism, with some interesting results;
  • Mapped two dozen remote, unique and/or historic destinations through the hill and cave country of Southern Indiana;
  • Created the Natural Bloomington website, fliers and other promotional materials;
  • Been featured in an article in the June travel issue of Indiana Living Green;
  • Taken two sets of Chinese students on tours;
  • Scheduled a custom tour for a local businessman with guests visiting from China; and
  • Met with an IU professor who is teaching an ecotourism class in the fall to discuss a possible collaboration.

My Nikon and I have also been to the woods seven times.

And I've started writing again.

Natural Bloomington is a long-term work in progress. And based on the response I've gotten from the first tours, the magazine piece, initial outreach efforts and an email list of a little more than 100 longtime and interested readers, I'm ready to spread the word.

If you know others who would like NaturalBloomington.com, please link to us on your web and social media sites.

If you want to learn more about our tours and destinations, you can reach us through our Contact Us page, where you'll find numbers, addresses and a contact form. We can work something out.

Onward,

Steve