The preserve-play relationship with nature: Creating community opportunities in nature
Land management ıs one of those terms that causes a bit of head-scratching from the general public, especially when the land being managed is considered “natural habitat.” Managing natural lands should be simple and straightforward — leave it alone, limit human disturbance and let nature take its course. But in a world where human population and natural habitat acreage are inversely related, the answer isn’t so simple. Land management in Indiana has become a necessity after years of cultivation and urbanization, and Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation is bringing these native habitats back to our community.
Our 17-park system at CCPR contains 360 unconsolidated acres of natural habitat, including restored prairies, climax forests and emergent wetlands. Ranging in size from 5 to 161 acres, all of our parks contain a recreation component whether it be a walking trail or a splash pad for the kids — and the kid-at-heart adults. When viewing these parks from a management perspective, each footstep taken on that walking trail has the opportunity to create a relationship between that person and nature; on the other hand, each step has the opportunity to carry in an invasive Canada thistle seed wedged in the groove of that person’s shoe. Both of these opportunities form the fundamental struggle of recreational land management — striking that preserve-play relationship with nature.
Creative solutions are key to finding our preserve-play balance at CCPR — and we are creating these solutions using our core mission statement of serving the community, developing existing resources and creating a sustainable future. These solutions involve an integrative approach that includes working with other parks and recreation districts, our internal staff and the greater Carmel, Ind., community. On a finer scale, we are integrating volunteer opportunities to include park stewardship programs. A great place to start is within your volunteer database, utilizing a group of people already willing to give their time and efforts to the parks. Additionally, creating a more diverse offering of volunteer opportunities will help us reach one of our core goals by engaging more people in nature at CCPR.
These efforts are focused into three main categories: free public programming, citizen science programs and park stewardship opportunities. In 2018 we kicked off our free public programs with our “My Park” Series: a series highlighting the natural habitat that make each one of our parks unique — and worth taking a hike in. The series began taking place May-September and will continue to be offered annually until each of our 17 parks have been visited — but the outreach doesn’t stop there. The ultimate goal of this series is to create an interpretive hike leadership program, aimed at the graduates of the Indiana Master Naturalist Class offered through CCPR. This gives them an opportunity to practice and apply all that they’ve learned in their class while satisfying their annual volunteer commitment — not to mention, advancing the knowledge of our great parks to the Carmel community to continuously work to preserve.
But anecdotal knowledge is just one piece of the puzzle — we as a park system want to gather data to consistently update our management strategies and sustain high-quality natural habitat for wildlife and the ecosystem services they provide to our city. Internal efforts will play a big role in developing and maintaining these strategies — but training and including the public in the data collection process will preserve these methods for the future. In order to successfully accomplish these long-term monitoring goals with the community, it is essential to have a solid data collection protocol. We are working with local and state organizations such as the Hoosier River Watch, Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, and the Boone County Bluebird Society, to allow our community members to utilize their data not only with us but with outside organizations — thus contributing to the greater scientific knowledge on these subjects.
Both our free public programs and citizen science opportunities fall under the umbrella of our park stewardship program. Our volunteer coordinator, Rachael Fleck, leads and designs all volunteer activities with a park stewardship component, from invasive garlic mustard removal to resurfacing multi-use trails in one of our highly utilized parks, the Central Park East Woods. We have seen great success in the past two years with her garlic mustard removal teams and plan to expand our public invasive species eradication efforts from mechanical removal to identification and mapping. Not only does this diversify our options for the public to help with local invasive species, it will be a major help internally for our team to target priority areas for invasive species removal across all 360 acres of natural habitat.
The newest addition to our park stewardship programs is our “Adopt-a-Park” initiative, where local groups can adopt a park/greenway in our system with an initial time investment of one year. This opportunity is great for homeowners associations and businesses located along our 5.2-mile section of the Monon Greenway, a linear trail that spans a total of 26 miles in length from Indianapolis to Westfield, Ind. We’ve already found success in this program with a youth group that adopted and created pollinator gardens for our community, and anticipate this program to be one of our greatest connectors between the people of Carmel and CCPR.
I’ll leave you with the words of Margret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Finding a willing group is just one step. Providing them with opportunities to engage with nature and to empower them through learning is our duty here at Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation.
Brittany McAdams is the natural resources coordinator for Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation, a Gold Medal and CAPRA accredited agency. Her role includes the coordination and development of park stewardship opportunities, including citizen science, long-term monitoring programs and guided park walks. Outcomes of her work will stem from monitoring, recording and mapping restoration efforts, including invasive species removal and treatment, natural area health and revegetation.
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