LAND STEWARDSHIP MISSION The Land Stewardship Team protects natural resources for their sound use and enjoyment in accordance with Indy Parks Land Stewardship Policy and in cooperation with interested citizens, government agencies, conservation groups and universities.
WHY LAND STEWARDSHIP?Open spaces are developed to meet the needs of an expanding community. The protection of open spaces in Parks and Greenways is also important to provide a suitable space for recreation and wildlife habitat. The Land Stewardship Team of Indy Parks coordinates projects that help to restore and protect Indianapolis Parks and Greenways so that public natural areas will be a sustainable resource for people and wildlife.
NATURAL AREASIt is estimated that seven hundred acres (eight percent) of Indy Park public lands contain relatively high quality forest communities. Although no known old growth forests remain in Marion County, there are still second growth forests with plant diversity comparable to pre-settlement times. Indy Parks and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Nature Preserves jointly manage four nature preserves containing four hundred forested acres. These parks are Marott Nature Preserve, Spring Pond, Eagle Crest Woods, and Woolen's Gardens. Maintenance of these natural areas is essential if we are to preserve the integrity of these fragile ecosystems.
WHY RESTORATION?Fields that have been farmed for a long period of time are usually lacking the critical components necessary for regeneration. Often, the hydrology of the farm field has been changed by drainage ditches or tiles. Unprotected, organic topsoil has usually washed away from years of tillage [Marion County Soil and Water District]. Thus, agricultural land that was once forested will not revert back to its former habitat when it is no longer farmed.
A process called natural succession would normally reclaim disturbed land. In a large forest, a disturbance such as a blow-down would soon regenerate relatively quickly with native trees, shrubs and a non-woody plant layer on the forest floor. However, natural succession seldom works today in an urban setting without proper management. Even small blows down areas that have occurred recently in high quality urban forests have been infested with weedy exotic plants. It appears that natural succession by native plant species starts to occur in urban old fields and cleared forest areas, but is soon hindered or stopped completely by highly competitive invasive exotic plants.
As land stewards, we understand that the old adage, "let nature take care of itself", is rarely a valid point today. The protection and management of forested areas is a priority at Indy Parks. The Land Stewardship Section coordinates programs with volunteers and staff to protect these areas. Below are some of the activities used to maintain natural areas at Indy Parks:Educational volunteer workdays to control invasive exotic plant speciesResearch of flora and fauna, using accepted methods of data collection and analysis
Property boundary delineation and control Native species planting Restorative Activities/ReforestationOld farm fields can be developed for active recreational uses such as soccer, baseball or softball. Parks that have abandoned farm fields can also be planted with native species becoming a valuable asset for passive recreation.
Indy Parks' staff and volunteers plant trees in highly disturbed areas to increase the recreational and natural value of Indianapolis parklands. Reforestation efforts are underway to add tree cover and diversity to old agricultural fields and low quality woodlands. Indigenous tree species are used to help insure success. Tree planting inherently provides opportunities for Environmental Education thus adding value to the reforestation process. Groups may choose to monitor the trees, maintain the planting, or conduct research on the project.
Healthy urban trees are also a critical component of the quality of life in Indianapolis. Well known are the benefits trees provide in purifying air and providing wildlife habitat. Lesser known is the economic values trees have in educing heat islands, storm water runoff and flooding. Recent research coupled with computer modeling document that by slowing down rainfall, trees and other plants recharge aquifers and reduce peak flows in rivers and creeks Indy Green or City Green.
RESTORATIVE ACTIVITIES: PRAIRIESPrairie ecosystems occurred in several counties north of the Indianapolis-Marion County area, where examples of open prairie remnants still exist today (along with the drier oak savanna habitats). Indianapolis is located just south of the prairie counties, but on the same physiographic region known as the Tipton Till Plain—the glaciated, relatively flat area of Central Indiana. Many prairie plants of northern Indiana are also native to Marion County. The native prairie plants in Marion County most likely filled the niches created by natural disturbance and open wet areas in pre-settlement times.
Installing a prairie habitat is a good way to help mitigate the loss of biodiversity in urban park areas after nearly two hundred years of agriculture. Drilled prairie seed in an old agricultural field yields mature plants in as little as five or six years, with strong growth in the second year. A greater abundance of birds and insects are usually seen within several years.
Over fifty acres of prairie species have been drilled into old agricultural fields over the last three years at Indy Parks. Short-term maintenance by prescription mowing at particular times will discourage exotic invasive plants until prairie grasses and wildflowers become established. Mowing is discontinued later and the only maintenance required is controlled burning.
THE TROUBLE WITH WEEDSMost people are startled to learn that the majority of plant species they see in Indianapolis are from other countries. Some of these exotic plants invade, quickly taking over and degrading native plant communities invasive exotic plants. These exotics reduce the biodiversity of natural areas thus interfering with native plants and wildlife. Some weedy examples include Siberian Elm, Tree of Heaven, Amur Honeysuckle and garlic mustard.
NATIVE PLANT LANDSCAPINGNative plants of the regions of North America were not generally used for landscaping for several hundred years. Plant enthusiasts, landscape architects, and others are discovering that native plants are showy and have real value in ornamental situations. Properly selected native plants require less maintenance and restore food for butterflies and other beneficial insects.
Land Stewardship Manager(317) 327-7416