IU Kokomo volunteers plant ecological restoration sites

Written on 07/02/2024
By Danielle Rush Communications Specialist, Indiana University Kokomo

Right now, the meadow on the Indiana University Kokomo campus’s east side is just an open expanse of mowed yard. But in a few years, it will be a lush urban prairie, covered in native grasses and wildflowers, providing refuge for pollinators, birds, and wildlife.

This summer, student and faculty volunteers are taking the first steps to reach that goal, planting approximately 1,500 plants in four campus ecological restoration areas— the plot east of the Kelley House, in Sustainability Meadow, by the Earth Stage, and in the wetlands by the parking garage.

“These are all great plants. It’s going to be beautiful once everything grows up,” said Tera Gotschall, intern for the Office of Sustainability and member of the Student Sustainability Council. “Once it all blooms, it will be a sight to see, and really exciting for our campus.”

Andy Tuholski, director of the Office of Sustainability and assistant professor of political science, said the work taking place this summer is phase one of a larger project to increase campus biodiversity, and demonstrates IU and IU Kokomo’s commitment to sustainability.

“The fact we can do something this, IU says, ‘Here’s a plot of land, let’s make it wild, let’s let it grow.’ I think that’s pretty great they’re committed to that,” he said.

The foundational plant kits were curated by the Hamilton County Soil and Water District, based on what would thrive in each of the four sites. They include native grasses and wildflowers, plants that thrive in shade, and rain garden plants, among others. All sites are designated as no-spray zones.

The restoration sites don’t look like much now, but sustainability is about playing the long game, Tuholski said.

“It shows making a difference over time,” he said. “You make these small changes, you come out for a handful of hours here and there, and you make something from nothing. This was a grass patch, now it has hundreds of native plants in it. For some of the freshmen and sophomores out here, by the time they graduate, the hope is this is a flourishing area.”

He added that the project has student buy in, not just from those in sustainability programs.

“Students have shown a real interest,” he said, adding that the annual tree planting activities are among the more popular service learning events. Students also have been critical in the restoration of the Main Building courtyard, which started with bare earth in planters three years ago. This year, some of the initial plantings grew so large they had to be divided and transplanted.

Planting will take place throughout the summer, with additional opportunities to volunteer. Tuholski added that assistance will be needed to maintain the plots as well, including watering and removing any invasive plants that pop up because there is no weedkiller being used.

“I want students to continue to be part of this,” he said. “This is not my plot of land. It belongs to them, and they are invested in seeing this succeed.”

For more information about campus sustainability efforts or how to volunteer, contact the Office of Sustainability at atuholsk@iu.edu or go to kokomo.iu.edu/sustainability/