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Editorial: Rise of tree projects fosters leafy charm

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One of the attractions of Franklin is its mature trees. They shade streets and complement the charm of its 19th- and early 20th-century homes and buildings.

However, without continued attention, that resource could disappear. The city and Franklin College have taken steps to retain and enhance that charm.

The city recently began an urban forest program in a portion of flood-ravaged land south of Youngs Creek on the city’s southside. Hundreds of seedlings and saplings have been planted, and more plantings are planned.

Each tree is protected by a yellow plastic cylinder. So right now, it looks more like rows of yellow plastic cans. But developers are thinking long term. Many of the people most responsible for the project won’t live to see the trees mature, but their vision reaches beyond their own lifetimes.

Now Franklin College has undertaken a similar project on the east side of the campus. The goal is to create the type of old-growth habitat that was common in Indiana before the settlers arrived.

Years from now, students and visitors will be able to study and relax under or just marvel at scores of trees, comprising 22 species native to Indiana, including oaks, maples, black gum, tulip poplar, sassafras, paw paw and persimmon.

Franklin College has emphasized the importance of fostering healthy trees on campus, both for aesthetic and educational reasons. For its efforts, the college has been recognized by the International Society of Arboriculture and the Arbor Day Foundation.

But project planners say the greater value is in making the student body more appreciative of the trees around them.

“A lot of times, we don’t have time in our day to leave and go somewhere far away. If I want to teach students about forest communities by walking five minutes, that makes it much easier for the students,” biology professor Alice Heikens said.

The trees are small now, like those in the city’s urban forest. But college officials envision a time when towering trees will provide shade for spicebush and wildflowers.

The design was done to replicate the four-tiered habitat a forest provides — canopy trees, midsized trees, shrubs, and forest floor plants such as grasses and ferns.

The urban forest was made possible through a grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Community and Urban Forest Program.

For its arboretum, a campuswide tree inventory and special management practices, Franklin College received the Tree Campus USA distinction in December. The International Society of Arboriculture also recognized the college with the Gold Leaf Award for its urban forest project. The award recognizes individuals, organizations and communities for outstanding Arbor Day programs, tree plantings and programs that have a significant impact on a community.

Imagining what the urban forest can become is still difficult. The trees are too young. Reaching a significant level likely won’t happen for another 10 years.

But as Heikens put it: “I may not see this turn into a beautiful forest, but we’re really leaving something for future generations here.”

As we said, mature trees are a major element of Franklin’s charm. The urban forest projects by the college and the city represent a long-term investment in the community.

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