A Restored Habitat

A forest chock full of invasives is on its way to becoming high-quality riparian and flood plain habitat.

Soon after IPS purchased the Sommers Estate from Tudor Hall in 1971, a decision was made to no longer maintain the portion west of Crooked Creek—former site of the Sommers’ miniature golf course. It was simply too costly to keep mowing that much turf grass.

Nature took its course, and soon the area was colonized by Asian bush honeysuckle, buckthorn, and oriental bittersweet, effectively preventing the development of a healthy native understory.

Realizing that the natural habitat had become seriously degraded over three decades, in 2001 Cold Spring School undertook a long-term restoration project to provide 18 acres of high-quality riparian and flood plain habitat within the White River watershed, close to the river itself. Partners in this effort were Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc., and Marian University. The Natural Resource Trustees released $13,900 for that project from a Natural Resource Damage settlement obtained from Marathon Oil Company for an oil spill on Crooked Creek.

Success of the project would be measured through: (1) evidence of a significant decrease in the dominance of exotics and an increase in native species dominance and diversity; and (2) evidence of the increased use and effectiveness of the area to improve understanding and awareness of such restoration efforts.

Contracting with EcoLogic LLS, Cold Spring School began to control non-native invasive species, primarily bush honeysuckle, on about 13 acres. Follow-up treatments continued on individual plants that were especially difficult to eradicate. Trails were cut through the honeysuckle to create access for learning activities and planting.

With the settlement funds and support of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful in the form of human resources and equipment, about 1,500 trees were planted in the area cleared of honeysuckle. The trees thrived despite some early losses to beaver activity.

The Marathon Oil settlement project strengthened the School’s partnership with Marian University, which has continued to help uncover the structures of the historic landscape and restore the native woodland and wetland plant communities. The improved habitat affords educational opportunities for children and adults from the entire community.

Continuing Invasives Removal

In 2004, Cold Spring School requested additional funds to continue fighting exotic invasive plant species in the 5 acres untouched by previous removal and revegetation efforts. They also aimed to stabilize an area along Crooked Creek where high-water events undercut the bank and contributed to sediment loading downstream. Educationally, this effort would reinforce the importance of river systems and high quality habitat to students’ quality of life. The proposal asserted to the trustees of the White River Restoration Fund that “IPS plans for this property to remain as a natural area and environmental education center in perpetuity.”

The Natural Resource Trustees through the IDNR, IDEM and USFWS again granted funds for the habitat restoration project. The initial request was for $146,900 (per White River Resolution 52) from White River Restoration Fund dollars obtained as a result of the settlement with Guide Corporation after it discharged toxic chemicals into the White River in Anderson in 1999, resulting in a huge fish kill. Those funds began to be spent in 2007, and $3,900 remain for 2010 exotic species control, which the proposal noted would be required in perpetuity.

Subsequent to the 2004 proposal, CSS teacher Denice Haines and IDNR Natural Resource Damages Program Director Carl Wodrich attempted to get IPS to negotiate a conservation easement over the 18 acres that were being restored. This would have protected the land in perpetuity, allowing it to flourish over the 10 to 30 years need for the restored habitat to reach its full potential. Despite three years of effort, Haines and Wodrich were unable get the attention of the IPS administration to consider such an easement.

In the fall of 2007, Eco Logic LLC planted 400 (3 gallon containerized) Indiana genotype native trees. Following this, Eco Logic worked with the staff and children at Cold Spring School to plant additional native trees (for total of 575); these trees were labeled with the students’ names and baseline data was collected on the trees for future studies. The entire forest was sown with native local Indiana genotype understory grasses following the tree plantings. The following spring, Eco Logic planted 3,600 bareroot native Indiana genotype trees to complete the reforestation part of the project. Click on the image below to enlarge it.

EcoLogic Restoration

Replanting After Flood Losses

The massive floods that hit central Indiana in late spring and the early summer of 2008 had a devastating effect on the tree plantings. A large log jam occurred behind the northernmost bridge leading from Cold Spring School to the teaching preserve, the site was littered with flood debris, and the majority of the newly planted trees were washed away (70% of the containerized trees, 85% of the bareroot saplings). The school requested and received additional funds ($23,453 per White River Resolution 86) for Eco Logic to mitigate the effects of the flood and replant the trees that were lost, planning to stake all of the containerized trees to help stabilize the trees during future flood events. EcoLogicFloodMitigation$23k The expressed goal was to ensure the successful restoration of the forest ecosystem and to ensure that every student who planted a tree labeled with their name had the ability to continue their data inventory. That year, 490 containerized trees and 2,550 bareroot trees were planted. The plant list follows:

Tree Species for Reforestation

1. Bitternut Hickory – Carya cordiformis
2. Eastern Redbud – Cercis canadensis
3. Kentucky Coffeetree – Gymnoclaudus dioicus
4. Sweetgum – Liquidambar stryaciflua
5. Black Walnut – Juglans nigra
6. Black Gum – Nyssa sylvatica
7. Swamp White Oak – Quercus bicolor
8. Pin Oak – Quercus palustris
9. Bur Oak – Quercus macrocarpa
10.Shummard Oak – Quercus shumardii

Shrubs for Understory Restoration

1. Spicebush – Lindera benzoin
2. Ninebark – Physocarpus opulifolius
3. Elderberry – Sambucus canadensis
4. Blackhaw Viburnum – Viburnum prunifolium

IDNR/IDEM Damage Assessment Disbursements to Date

2001—$13,900—Marathon Oil Settlement

2004—$146,900—White River Restoration Settlement (Resolution 52)

2009—$23,453—White River Restoration Settlement (Resolution 86)

Total $184,253

Immediately adjacent to Cold Spring School is Marian University’s EcoLab, which also benefited from both Marathon Oil settlement funds ($69,000.00) and White River restoration funds ($238,216.00) between 2001–2007. In all, a total of $491,469.00 have been invested in the restoration of the 70+ acre floodplain wetland habitats found at Cold Spring School and Marian University from these natural resource damage assessment settlements.