By Ron Zartman
On Saturday, March 25, 2000, a Tree Planting Field Day was held at the north unit of Metea County Park. In a soybean field on Hursh Road, immediately east of Cedar Creek, nearly fifteen thousand trees were planted. A handful of people went home better informed to plant their own trees. Tom Crowe, of Wakeland Forestry Consultants, spoke about improving existing tree plantings. Bill Lambert, of Lambert Forestry Consulting, talked about tree planting do’s and don’ts. Gary Moughler, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, clued participants in on gypsy moths and other insect pests. Dave Hines with the Natural Resource Conservation Service presented information on federal agricultural programs like CRP and WRP. A lot of people and agencies cooperated to make this happen. This day was a long time coming.
Allen County Parks and Recreation (ACPR) had purchased this land in the mid-eighties. It had been farmed for about ten years to bring in revenue until it could be developed as parkland. Dave Lamb of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) worked with Allen County Parks in 1996 to enter 17 acres at the rear of the property in the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). This U.S. Department of Agriculture program preserves wetlands permanently by purchasing development rights from landowners. In exchange for placing a perpetual easement on their wetland property, landowners receive a lump sum payment of the approximate value of the acreage involved. This was perfect for Allen County Parks and Recreation (ACPR). We planned to protect these wetlands and create trail access to them anyway, and this payment replaced lost revenues from farming. This acreage was taken out of agricultural production and left idle. In a short time “pioneer” trees seeded in on their own. Cottonwood, sycamore, ash, cherry, and dogwood established themselves in the floodplain soils.
In 1998 the County Parks became aware that we could be eligible to enter the remaining sixteen acres of soybeans into the Conservation Reserve Plan (CRP), another USDA farm program. Again, Dave Lamb with NRCS and the Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District guided us through the process. We would be paid a yearly rent on these acres in exchange for taking this land out of production. The rent paid would actually be higher than the farm revenues we had been taking in. If we planted trees the payments would be made for fifteen years. The USDA would cost-share expenses of planting trees and controlling weeds for the first two years. CRP and WRP would help us take thirty-three acres out of agriculture and restore them to forest cover. This would provide wildlife habitat, expand our trail system, and prepare this area for public use.
Many benefits were going to be realized by Metea County Park’s participation in CRP and WRP. Allen County Parks Board member and County Extension Director Roger Moll could see the potential for expanding the County Parks’ and Purdue Cooperative Extension Service’s educational efforts with this project. He proposed using this area as a forestry demonstration area. Land owners who were considering planting trees on their own properties could learn from this planting at Metea County Park. They could compare planting strategies, and in the future they could see best management practices in use. We began to look for partners.
Roger Moll enlisted the help of Purdue Extension Wildlife Specialist Brian MacGowan. Brian offered several tree planting and maintenance strategies, advice on wildlife problems, and suggestions of tree species that would benefit wildlife.
Dave Lamb suggested getting local forestry consultants involved. They may be interested in using this area as a demonstration area for the strategies they commonly use in their work. Being public land, potential customers could view the practices in use at Metea over time and at their leisure.
Two firms decided to help with reforestation efforts at Metea. Both firms were on the Forestry Committee of the Wood-Land-Lakes RC&D. Bill Lambert, of Lambert Forestry Consulting, and Tom Crow of Wakeland Forestry Consultants teamed up to plant trees at a reduced rate. Tom Crowe developed separate tree planting plans for the CRP and WRP plots. The Conservation Reserve Plan plot was started from scratch, planting directly into the soybean stubble. The Wetland Reserve Program land supplemented what came up naturally. Trees that would have taken a long time to come in by themselves, like oaks and walnut, were planted into what was already growing there.
Both of Wakeland Forestry Consultants’ tree planting plans had the objective “to recreate an aesthetically pleasing natural woodland that will produce an economically valuable timber resource in addition to maximizing species diversity, improving wildlife habitat, water quality, and recreational and educational opportunities while reducing soil erosion. An additional objective is to demonstrate various aspects relating to tree planting and plantation management that may be used in the future as a demonstration area by people interested in tree planting for timber production.”
Tom Crowe was able to successfully help Allen County Parks secure $3,400 in funding from the Hardwood Forestry Fund, a program of the Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association. This funding will cover costs of seedlings, planting, and weed control not covered by CRP. In return, Allen County Parks has agreed to document the progress of the project with photographs and published news articles and provide the Hardwood Forestry Fund with copies of these. We must also notify the Hardwood Forestry Fund of tree survival and health at years one, five, ten and twenty, or if any changes occur impacting the health or management of the project. Their members may benefit from a timber harvest in the future.
The CRP planting called for black walnut (2800 tress), red oak (2800), white oak (1400), chinquapin oak (700), burr oak (700), tulip (1400), black cherry (1400), and butternut (100). These species of trees were intermixed in rows by a tractor-pulled planter. Some rows were planted with trees every six feet. Another area would be planted with trees every nine feet. Rows would be eight feet apart. We will be able to determine in the future which did better.
Another variable demonstrated was weed control. The difference between applying herbicide only on the rows of trees vs. broadcast spraying of whole areas should be visible almost right away. Brochures will be developed to explain what areas received different practices so that landowners can determine for themselves how to go about their own tree plantings.
The WRP areas were planted with seven hundred each of black walnut, red oak, white oak, chinquapin oak, burr oak, and shagbark hickory. One area was left alone to show only what has come in naturally with no help. Another will be broadcast sprayed with herbicide to “release” the tress that have come in naturally. In this area the pioneer trees should do better than the first, due to not having competition with weeds for the two years of herbicide treatment. A third area will supplement existing natural regeneration by planting heavy mast (nuts and acorns) producers and controlling weeds over planted trees only. Trees were planted mechanically right into existing trees in eight-foot spacing. Rows were ten feet apart. The remaining area of WRP land followed the same planting regimen as the first, but will be broadcast sprayed for weed for two years, again releasing naturally occurring tress and protecting planted trees from competition with weeds.
To create as much diversity as possible, Hoosier Releaf supplied trees planted by park staff and volunteers on May 20, 2000. These were planted by hand in the same rows as the mechanically planted and will benefit from any weed control applied there.
It is wonderful to think that in ten years we could have a canopy of tree cover where there is now just soybean stubble. There will soon be new trails to hike. And Cedar Creek will begin to benefit from a new buffer from agriculture. It has been gratifying to see so many people and organizations get involved.