James P. Vacendak Wildlife Reserve


20 acres of woods and wetland, dappled in spring with ephemeral ponds, the James P. Vacendak Wildlife Reserve is a wonderful spot for amphibians. On a cold  early spring night in Newton County, tiger salamanders will crawl from hibernation and head to the recently unfrozen water.  The salamanders move is driven by determination to breed in the pin oak wetlands. Salamanders mate and lay their slimy egg masses in the water as they have done for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The eggs will hatch and the young larva will eat large numbers of mosquito larvae in a race to mature beyond the gill stage before the water dries up in summer. Those that do mature, will leave the wetland and continue their life underground in the soil searching for worms and other small invertebrates to eat. In the fall they will dig below the frost line, before emerging in spring and beginning the cycle again.


History of Acquisition and Property

Gretchen Vacendak. Gretchen and her late husband James used these woods as a country escape, a place for their 3 boys to explore nature. They planted white pines, red pines, and walnut trees around a family camp, which included a small fire pit for cooking and shallow well with a hand pump for water. They enjoyed the blue flag iris and the multitude of wildflowers around the edges of the wetlands, and occasionally even caught a glimpse of a sandhill crane resting during migration.  Over the years their children learned to shoot, built tree houses and rafts in using the property during all seasons.

NICHES is honored to have the responsibility for the management of the property, now known as the James P. Vacendak Wildlife Preserve. Come on out and experience the wonders of nature that the Vacendak family has known for decades.


Overview of Management plan

Maintain native ecosystems

Remove invasive plant species infestations

Protect habitat for native wildlife


Directions from I65

Vacendak Wildlife Preserve is located 2 miles west of Holley Savanna on 200 S and 1/4 mile east of 100 E.

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James P. Vacendak Wildlife Preserve

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James P. Vacendak Wildlife Preserve 40.970550, -87.368190 Vacendak webpage (Directions)

Things to Bring With / Dress Consideration

Dress for exploring outdoors – comfortable all terrain shoes are recommended. Layers help prevent being overheated or chilled. Long pants and long sleeves prevent your skin being exposed to insect bites or plants that cause skin reactions. Bring waders or water shoes to explore in the creeks.  Submerged rocks can be slippery, and water currents can make wading difficult or dangerous, so use caution if entering creeks.

A water bottle ensures proper hydration.

A camera enables capturing of stunning natural landscape or nature pictures.

No restroom facilities at the property.

Practice ‘leave no trace’ exploring – if you carry an item on the property, carry it off again, including trash, food wrappers, beverage containers, etc.

Feel free to remove any trash you do find; collaborative effort helps keep properties free of litter.


Local Features of Interest Nearby

NICHES Land Trust Holley Savanna