Below is an article from our January IDO Newsletter about the large-scale tree planting that occurred in the Irvington Terrace area during the 2015 Lilly Global Day of Service event. A big thank you to the employees at Eli Lilly and Company, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Irvington Garden Club, IDO’s own Irvington Green Initiative and our wonderful Irvington and Indianapolis-area neighbors!

To read more on the Shadeland article, click here for our January IDO Newsletter where you’ll find additional articles on parking in Irvington, our Neighbor Spotlight, and new restaurant, The Mug, which will be coming to Irvington in the not-too-distant future!

Bringing the Shade Back to Shadeland

By Heidi Unger
Photo Cred: Heidi Unger and Google Earth Images

Irvington’s eastern gateway, a US 40 highway interchange that aided eastside industrial development in Indianapolis in the 1950s, has received a makeover that restores native habitat and will reduce the city’s maintenance costs by $12,000 per year — every year for the foreseeable future. This conservation project also mitigates stormwater, erosion, and heat while it sequesters carbon and other pollutants.

On Eli Lilly’s Global Day of Service in October 2015, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) provided the resources for Lilly volunteers to plant 883 trees on the cloverleaf and adjacent triangles at Shadeland Avenue and East Washington Street. KIB, an Indianapolis not-for-profit organization that facilitates sustainable beautification through community involvement, found the size of this city-owned property ideal for a project of this scope (project funding required planting on city property) and was eager to expand an existing project in a community where it has a long-term working relationship with community members.

KIB intends to expand this tree-planting project farther south within the next two years. Nate Faris, Director of Community Forestry, says, “Our plans are, next year in the fall, to plant another 900 trees over at Shadeland and English at the interchange south of the one we just planted, and, hopefully in 2017, we’ll be planting the interchange at Shadeland and Brookville.”

Community commitment

The conservation effort began in 2009 when Irvington Garden Club member Pat Brown and her Irvington Terrace neighbors launched the first stage of this project by gaining support from KIB, Irvington Development Organization (IDO), Irvington Green Initiative, local politicians, and nearby businesses and then began planting 30 trees in the northwest quadrant of the East Washington Street cloverleaf. In the next stage of the project, they added native plants.

Brown’s plan for a prairie/woodland gateway to historic Irvington aimed to reestablish barren acreage to a diverse, self-sustaining property. She explains that “Irvington was originally established as a suburb of Indianapolis, a place to live where one could enjoy nature. Today, traveling along East Washington Street offers mostly views of concrete, commercial signs, and speeding cars.” Restoring native habitat in the cloverleaf “brings back some of the natural beauty that once existed along the Old National Trail/Highway 40.”

cloverleaf northwest

Photo courtesy of Heidi Unger

After the first trees were planted in a portion of the northwest quadrant, that portion was “taken out of mow,” which is the city’s terminology for removing a patch of grass from its grass-mowing schedule — a move that reduced the city’s grass-mowing costs and its impact on the environment. Volunteers in Irvington Terrace committed to watering the trees weekly during the months of April through October for three years (which became four years due to drought). A neighborhood volunteer bucket brigade watered trees with 5-gallon buckets filled from a water tank that residents transported with a trailer and minivan.

About four years ago, news of the planting project caught the attention of Lilly’s Global Day of Service planners, who were looking for an opportunity to train their volunteers to plant trees on slopes and found a suitable slope in the southwest quadrant. Together with KIB, Lilly developed a plan to plant and maintain the entire southwest quadrant. And in 2015, they returned to finish the entire interchange.

This is only one example of how community involvement in neighborhoods throughout Indianapolis can attract bigger and better improvements. “I think a lot of this started with Irvington Terrace being excited to plant there, and it started with small steps that built over time,” Faris says. “It made sense to keep investing there once we started.” 

Cost reduction

Now that the entire interchange is planted, the city will mow only a 30-foot swath around the edges. Faris notes that because the city spends $12,000 annually to mow a single interchange, “We’re saving the city $12,000 [every year], and we’re saving all the gasoline that’s burned to mow those areas. That’s a pretty sweet deal.”

Faris mentions additional benefits. “Trees provide a lot of services. They take carbon out of the air and sequester it. They also knock other pollutants out of the air, so they make the air cleaner. A city gets pretty hot, and trees cool the city, not only by shading the asphalt but also by evapotranspiration.” The evapotranspiration process requires heat, and removing the heat results in a cooler environment under established trees.

“Trees also intercept storm water, so they help reduce the need for larger sewers in our city, and they help reduce peak sewer flows so that less raw sewage is washed into our rivers.”

Partnerships in community development

In the early phases of the cloverleaf project, community members realized its contribution to existing neighborhood development plans. IDO’s goals to enhance the Irvington business corridor on East Washington Street, support the Pennsy Trail expansion, and improve the streetscape fit nicely with the cloverleaf rehabilitation.

The project also contributes to KIB’s goal to plant 100,000 trees across the city.

Food chain and biodiversity support

Brown’s original plan for the cloverleaf included the goal to “promote the appreciation, preservation, conservation, and utilization of the flora native to Indiana and educate the public about the values, beauty, diversity, and environmental importance of indigenous vegetation.” Planting native trees and plants is an idea that has become popular with environmentalists, and it’s one that KIB shares.

Faris explains that one advantage of landscaping with native plants is the relatively minimal care that they require. “They’ve been here for thousands of years, and they’ve adapted to our climate and soil.” Another advantage is their role in the food chain. Put simply, plants that thrive in an environment are food for insects and animals that also thrive in that environment. A tree planted in its native environment can support as many as 500 species of caterpillars. “A bird’s nest, for example, often requires a couple hundred caterpillars a day to feed the new hatchlings. So if we plant native trees, lots of caterpillars can live on that and support the birds and all the other things that the ecosystem needs. But if we would’ve planted gingko trees, which are great urban-hardy trees but are native to Asia, they support in the single digits of species of caterpillars, and far less life can be supported on trees that aren’t from here.”

On the cloverleaf, volunteers have planted native trees, including eastern red cedar, bur oak, redbud, and quaking aspen; grasses such as Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem), Asclepias tuberosa (also known as milkweed and food for the declining monarch butterfly population); and flowers such as New England aster. Cloverleaf visitors are also finding that native plants and trees that no one planted are showing up there as the prairie and woodland recover.


About Irvington Development Organization

Irvington Development Organization, founded in 2002, works for the benefit of Irvington by cultivating positive business development, promoting the unique character of our neighborhood and enhancing the quality of life for residents and visitors. Irvington is a historic community on the East Side of Indianapolis known for its winding, tree-lined streets and architecturally significant homes and businesses.