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Setting the Record Straight: The Truth about 100 Acres

Patty Schneider joined the IMA Horticulture staff 2 ½ years ago, fresh out of the University of Wisconsin. This is Patty’s first post for the IMA blog! Patty’s passion for horticulture and the well-being of our environment is hard for her to hide and it’s a pleasure to work alongside her as we labor together in the gardens of the IMA.  We look forward to future thoughts from her as the IMA continues to strive for proper environmental stewardship.- Gwyn Rager

In 1972, when the IMA received the piece of land now known as 100 Acres, the area had already been affected by human use and abuse. Original disruption occurred when the site was used for farmland, until at least the 1940s. In the 1960s, the land was a staging area for highway equipment used for the  construction of the 38th street bridge, which spans the White River. The lovely, tranquil lake that so inspires viewers and artists alike began as a gravel quarry for highway construction, that later filled with flood water from the river.

1937 aerial photo of land in agricultural use

Late 1960s aerial photo of land post 38th St. construction

1971 photo of museum prior to construction digging

Although it did not occur naturally, the lake still provides a unique habitat for our resident blue heron, who remains content in his home despite the past year’s construction activity.

Blue heron, post 100 Acres opening, Sept 2010

The origin of the lake and the transition of the land surrounding it show evidence of the true natural cycle of a disturbed landscape returning to a stabilized equilibrium. This is commonly known as “ecological succession.” When soil and habitat is disturbed, the first stage of succession is dominated by pioneer plants, such as annuals and many plants we tend to call weeds. These plants will colonize quickly and cover the disturbed soil, preventing erosion and restarting the process of returning organic matter and structure to the soil. Over time, natural succession moves from annual weeds to perennials and grasses, then shrubs, softwood trees, and finally hardwood trees in more mature and stabilized communities. Interestingly, you can find each stage of succession in 100 Acres, including sections on the far side of the lake where mature hardwoods can be found.

Visual representation of ecological succession over time (many thanks to physicalgeography.net)

This brief description of the process of natural succession may make it sound like the environment can easily take care of itself; wait a couple hundred years or so, and voilà!, the land will return to its original, pristine, untamed wilderness! Unfortunately, there are other factors that interrupt this cycle, namely invasive plant species. Because they did not evolve with the natural checks and balances that keep native plants in equilibrium with their environment, many non-native (invasive) plants are more aggressive. This aggressive nature leaves no room for native species to become re-established. Asian bush honeysuckle, garlic mustard, and Oriental bittersweet are the ‘Big Three’ in 100 Acres. These are the plants that filled in the bare ground left by the 38th street construction.  The dominance of these invasives was so complete that removal of them appeared to be no different than clear cutting an old growth forest, eliminating habitat, sustenance, and the “beautiful, natural green.”  These were also the plants that some protested against being destroyed in the development of pathways and art installation.

Path entrenched in invasive honeysuckle; beautiful, but ecologically detrimental

The record must be set straight: what the museum inherited has not been “pristine, untamed wilderness” for well over a century. In truth, what looks like destruction is the removal of 35 acres of invasive honeysuckle over the past decade. Our grounds staff has worked tirelessly in the hopes that we can eradicate these species and allow natural succession to have some breathing room. Over 10,000 trees, shrubs, grasses and sedges planted in in their place are native to the state, some even specific to central Indiana.  The intention is that, with room to grow, these planted species will naturally self-seed throughout the property, replenishing the native populations.

Native wildflowers in 100 Acres, July 2010

Despite its history, there are numerous insects, a thriving assemblage of birds, turtles, raccoons, beaver, opossums, coyote, and deer in the Park. These wildlife populations tend to remain intact because of their common adaptability to urban areas. A survey  performed by Butler University, completed in 2006, took inventory of the flora and fauna found on 100 Acres. In the four years since then, we have seen increased diversity in many of the observed plant, wildlife and bird populations. Yet there is room for improvement.  Our hope is that we can fulfill the habitat needs for less common species to move into the area, as encouraged by the studies and ongoing research from Butler, Marian University’s EcoLab, US Geological Survey and the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District. Such collaborations are aiding the IMA in evaluating and practicing a logical land management plan.

Shy turtle residing in 100 Acres

What comes next, since 100 Acres resides in an urban environment and will have sustained human activity influencing it forever?  The IMA has taken the first steps for responsibility to the stewardship of renewal and care for the health of an important green space that allows an urban population a bit of respite from the concrete and asphalt jungle. It is time to understand that all green space is not created equal; the simple existence of green leaves and fallow land does not define the health of a landscape. Therefore, the museum’s horticulture and grounds staff is striving to restore the land to something resembling its former glory; a flood plain rich in species and beauty for the enjoyment and education of all.

Horticulture volunteers planting natives around Jaar's Park of the Laments

Native shrub planting

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Horticulture

13 Responses to “Setting the Record Straight: The Truth about 100 Acres”

  • avatar
    Dan Says:

    Great post! Very interesting, especially about the stages of natural habit rehabilitation. Learn something new every day.

  • avatar

    I love the IMA and enjoyed reading about its history here. I am so thankful as a photographer to have a place to bring my people that is welcoming to the art of picture taking and provides such a bright and beautiful backdrops for it. Good job IMA staff! You are all treasures!!

  • avatar
    Nate Solas Says:

    My wife does restoration work and stewardship along the Mississippi river gorge in the Twin Cities, and they often run into the same education issue as they combat invasive species. It’s a tricky challenge, trying to help people understand that you’re not cutting things down willy-nilly — there’s a method to the madness, and in the long term it’s the right thing to do.

    Good post!

  • avatar
    irvin Says:

    Excellent post Patty. Thanks for explaining the history of this land, and its hoped for future, so well in so few words. I think you will have to become a regular contributor to the IMA blog. And ditto on what Nate said.

  • avatar
    Arline Says:

    Great post! We all stumble along with good intentions to be “green”, and to be good stewards of the land. Educational posts like this are so helpful.

  • avatar
    Ed Says:

    Makes we want to get out and do some field work… awesome post!

  • avatar
    Big Sue Says:

    Great job and great use of photos to illustrate “points”.

  • avatar
    Deb Kelly Says:

    I loved reading about this, and I can’t wait to visit. I spent many happy days on the IMA grounds when I was a student at Butler, and now that I have small children, I want them to experience the same; sounds like it is even better now. I love the information about the changes in the environment and all the work that has been done to make the land healthy again.

  • avatar
    Kati Says:

    Thanks for the information, explained so clearly. Glad to see such an environmentally responsible project. I can’t wait to visit!

  • avatar
    Fan Says:

    Wow! As the IMA brings the environment back to a Healthier state, the Public can visit and experience the Art, like Park of Laments, and bring themselves back to a healthier state!

  • avatar
    Vanessa Tchoula Says:

    Thank you so much for publishing this very informative article on th 100 Acres. It has prompted me to become a memember of the IMA and to contribute where I can to the continued preservation and protection of this beautiful urban treasure!

  • avatar
    Patty Says:

    Thanks to all for the encouraging comments and support…it’s great when the truth brings understanding and inspiration!

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