The Wilderness Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on September 3, 1964. It contains the following definition of wilderness:
“Wilderness, in contrast to those areas where the landscape is dominated by man and his works, is hereby recognized as an area where man is not bound by the earth and its community of life, and where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
The Wildlife Code continues to clarify areas eligible for wildlife designation:
• Minimal human footprint
• Opportunities for unlimited entertainment
• At least 5,000 acres
• Educational, scientific, touristic or historical value
• There are no commercial establishments, no motorized travel, or any other form of mechanical transportation (such as vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles).
The wilderness designation was quickly adopted over vast tracts of wild lands in the western United States; However, Indiana did not have a designated wilderness area until 1982 when the Charles C. Deam Wilderness was established in the Hoosier National Forest on 12,953 acres south of Monroe Reservoir.
This wilderness area is named after the former state forester, pioneer botanist, and author of “The Plants of Indiana.” It has 37 miles of hiking trails, providing recreational opportunities for hikers, backpackers, and horseback riders. All motorized travel, including all wheeled vehicles, buggies and bicycles, is prohibited from the area’s wilderness trails.
While many wilderness areas have always been wilderness, the Deam Wilderness Area was settled but mostly abandoned by the end of the Great Depression. Signs of former settlement include ancient cemeteries, building foundations, pine plantations, and roadbeds found along most of the major ridges in the wilderness.
Deam Wilderness is located in Norman Upland, an area characterized by steep hills in the non-glaciated part of south-central Indiana. The geology is characterized by siltstones and shales of the Mississippian period, but the Mount Carmel fault running north-south across the western part of the wilderness has given rise to a limestone ridge known as the Frog Pond Ridge which has geology and plant communities very different from those of Surrounding landscape.
Typical plant communities in the Deam Wilderness included dry oak forests containing chestnut oak, crimson oak, black oak, white oak, shagbark hickory, and hickory. The sloped mesic forests feature American beech, sugar maple, tulip tree, black cherry, hickory, and Ohio buckeye.
Numerous seasonal and several perennial streams flow through the wilderness, surrounded by floodplain forests of sycamore, black walnut, elderberry, and eastern cottonwood. Finally, the limestone forests near the harbor of the Mount Carmel Fault, Chinkapin Oak, Shumard Oak, Burr Oak, and Hickory Bark.
The sloping forests, floodplain forests, and limestone forests are rich in spring wildflowers, making the Deam Wilderness an excellent choice for spring hiking. The 110-foot-tall fire tower in the eastern part of the wilderness is also open to visit.