KOKOMO, Ind. — “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” — Nelson Henderson
Hallie Carper leaves footprints in the dirt, tamping down the last shovelfuls around the hawthorn tree she just planted outside Indiana University Kokomo’s East Building, satisfied with a job well done.
“I think it’s good to have a lot of nature on campus, not just buildings,” said Carper, a sophomore. “That’s one thing I like about IU Kokomo. A lot of schools don’t have much nature. It feels good to be part of it.
“Now I can say I planted a tree. This tree,” she added, patting its trunk.
Carper was among about two dozen volunteers taking part in a campus tree planting and maintenance day, planned recently by the Office of Sustainability. Students, faculty, and staff worked together to plant five hawthorn trees outside the East Building, mulch trees outside the new Student Activities and Events Center, and pull thistle from an ecological restoration site along the creek on the south edge of campus.
IU Kokomo earned the 2019 Tree Campus USA Designation from the Arbor Day Foundation, for commitment to caring for its trees. To keep that distinction, it must host at least one service project per year, according to senior and sustainability intern Sarah Reel.
With many activities happening virtually, people were happy to get involved with a hands-on, in person event.
“It’s nice to be able to see people and get out and do something, especially on such a nice fall day,” she said, noting that it also gives her a chance to educate more people about the campus’s trees, and the wildlife it sustains — including a recently-discovered barred owl.
“Trees are a very obvious part of IU Kokomo’s campus, and we have a large forested region,” said Reel.
Leda Casey, senior lecturer of geology, who leads sustainability efforts, said there have been more bird and wildlife species spotted on campus in the last few years, as more attention has been paid to the environment.
The trees planted were selected because they are a native species to Indiana, and benefit the type of wildlife you would expect to find in the area.
“We have a tree plan and really try to manage our species on campus,” she said.
In addition to the trees, the campus has three ecological restoration sites, with native plants and no use of chemical weed killers — which means a lot of hands are needed for weed pulling.
“It’s not a glamorous job but it’s important,” Casey said. “Thistle is invasive, and it goes crazy down by the ditches. You really have to stay on top of it.”
Freshman Anna Marcum was among the volunteers for the tedious job, bending over, grasping each plant just above the ground, pulling it out by the roots, and dropping it into a trash bag to be hauled away.
“I thought it was really cool they were doing this,” she said. “I’m trying to be more environmentally conscious, and this is something I can do.”
Casey said the day wasn’t just about work — it was also education.
“We’re getting students engaged, they are learning about native species, and about the habitat on our campus,” she said. “They are also learning that they can play a part in taking care of our environment.”