NEW PALESTINE — Nestled in a New Palestine community, Wayne Gritter quietly tends to his quail, wild birds, squirrels and numerous critters that have come to call his backyard home.

Two years ago, his yard gained official wildlife habitat status. That included providing the four essential elements of food, water, protection and a place for wildlife to raise their young.

“Throughout my life, the word ecology was a big word for me,” Gritter said. “It is the interrelationship of Earth and human beings.”

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According to the National Wildlife Federation of Indiana, there are more than 245,000 properties in Indiana certified as official wildlife habitats.

However, only two out of 78 Indiana communities as a whole are certified. New Palestine residents are looking to make that three.

New Palestine is one of two communities in the state to recently have registered to be considered for National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat status.

Gritter, a retired pastor and nearly 20-year resident, said he’d love to see New Palestine gain the community habitat status. He highly recommends local residents consider nature and the animals that depend on it.

“My subdivision has a modern home, but at the same time, we are in a setting where we can feel that connection to nature,” Gritter said.

New Palestine resident Mary-Ann Wietbrock is leading the local charge to help area residents turn their properties into a haven for wildlife.

Her goal is to get at least 25 more people certified as having an official wildlife habitat on their properties so the community can earn the honor overall.

“The reason for doing that is so we can identify ourselves as a healthy place to live,” Wietbrock said.

It also will show how local residents are interested in making sure the community is one that supports wildlife and nature, she said.

The application process included identifying several habitat areas and defining the ecological characteristics that make New Palestine an ideal place to be a habitat environment.

“I’ve talked with corporate community leaders and created a plan with a team, and I had to have demonstrations of habitats,” Wietbrock said.

Zion Lutheran Church, Doe Creek Middle School, New Palestine High School and Sugar Creek Elementary have all been established as wildlife habitats.

Now Wietbrock is working to get residents to step forward and turn their backyards into safe places for woodland creatures.

As a lifelong fans of the outdoors, both Wietbrock and Gritter hope other nature lovers will make the effort to preserve the area.

Standing near Briar Creek, which runs behind his home, Gritter said his backyard was a natural choice to create a permanent safe place for wildlife.

“I sort of had a vision of how I wanted to retire,” Gritter said. “We wanted to buy a home with basically this. … You just get the sense you are in another atmosphere when go into the backyard.”

How to create a wildlife-friendly area

1). Provide food

Everyone needs to eat. Planting native shrubs and trees is the easiest way to provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts that many species of wildlife require to survive and thrive. You can also incorporate supplemental feeders and food sources.

2). Supply water

Wildlife needs clean water sources for many purposes, including drinking, bathing and reproduction. Water sources include natural features such as ponds, lakes, rivers, springs, oceans and wetlands; or human-made features such as bird baths, puddling areas for butterflies, installed ponds or rain gardens.

3). Create cover

Wildlife splaces to hide in order to feel safe from people, predators and inclement weather. Use things like native vegetation, shrubs, thickets and brush piles or even dead trees.

4). Give wildlife a place to raise young

Wildlife needs a sheltered place to raise offspring. Many places for cover can double as locations where wildlife can raise young, from wildflower meadows and bushes where many butterflies and moths lay their eggs, to caves where bats roost and form colonies.

Source: National Wildlife Federation

Need help?

For more information on how to turn your yard into an official natural wildlife habitat, call Wietbrock at 317-410-9140 or email her at

Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or