Clintonville-Area ‘Urban Arboretum’ Would Reforest Neighborhoods

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Horticulturalist Dan Struve stands by a white oak which he estimates is 200 years old
Horticulturalist Dan Struve stands by a white oak which he estimates is 200 years old

Some of the last vestiges of wildlife within the confines of Columbus can be found in the city’s ravines which start at Iuka Avenue and dot the landscape to near Morse Road. Now groups of interested people are planning a so-called urban arboretum that would connect the ravines by reforesting the neighborhoods around them.

When Martha Buckalew steps onto her front porch in the summer, she sees a thick green line of trees.

“When I look out I see the ravine,” says Buckalew. “It’s been here for millions of years. Many of the big trees have been there since the Civil War.”

Buckalew lives on the southeast edge of Glen Echo Ravine. She says some of the trees have been destroyed by storms or have been killed by erosion.

“A lot of the trees are dying and we have replanted so there will be a tree canopy in 200 years,” Buckalew says

Buckalew and other interested residents got together to replant all sorts of trees in Glen Echo Ravine. At the same time another group of residents began planting native oaks, hickories and other trees on city streets around the ravines. Since then they’ve begun encouraging homeowners to plant these native trees on their own property.

“The native trees would help to restore the green canopy that was once there and also help bring back the wildlife that existed at that time, too. Native trees are also healthier, they’ll last longer,” says Mike McLaughlin, president of LOUA, the Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum.

McLaughlin’s goal – which won’t be fully realized in his lifetime – is to live beneath a canopy of green. The ravines which stretch from Iuka Avenue to just north of Morse Road are integral to the project.

Horticulturalist Dan Struve is a key player in replanting native species in the ravine and along city streets. But instead of planting one species in a row the new approach is to grow a variety; black gum, burr oak and red maple for instance. It may be less aesthetically pleasing, Struve says, but from a biological perspective it’s better to have diversity.

“The overall guiding purpose of the arboretum is to recreate a more natural habitat similar to what was here when the Native Americas were here, so the pattern is probably atypical to what you would see in most city situations in that we do not have 10 trees in one row all of the same species and cultivar,” Struve says.

Glen Echo Ravine offers a glimpse of what could be if the project is successful. As a pair of mallards floats along the stream, Dan Struve points out an enormous, ancient Red Oak.

“I would guess at least two hundred years old and possibly older,” Struve says. There used to be half a dozen to a dozen in here before the windstorm so it radically changed the nature of the site.”

But other magnificent species survived.

“Here’s an example of a magnificent white oak,” says Struve. “I mean it’s probably 80 feet tall, almost 3 foot in diameter at the base, a magnificent tree. Those are the types you’d like to see in this area and hopefully the types we’re reestablishing.”

“It’s a biodiversity crisis out there right now and just growing natives in your own back yard can help improve biodiversity overall,” says LOUA’s Peter Kovarik.

Kovarik is an entomologist. He says certain types of trees attract insects that birds, for example, love. That alone increases the diversity of wildlife in the ravine and surrounding neighborhoods.

“Oak trees foster a large diversity of caterpillars and these are food for migratory song birds that come through our area. And even birds that feed on seeds will usually feed their nestlings with caterpillars. So they are so integral and necessary to support birds,” Kovarik says.

As the tree canopy spreads beyond the ravines Kovarik hopes that wildlife will, too.

“Right now, those birds look at our neighborhoods as being blighted; they don’t recognize this habitat. So as these native trees grow up, these birds are going to wander out of our ravines into these neighborhoods and that’s what I want to see. I don’t want to walk down to the ravines to see an Indigo Bunting; I want to see one in my own backyard. And I think that’s what we’ll get to see in the future,” Kovarik says.

LOUA president Mike McLaughlin has a grand vision, too. He hopes future generations will look down from an airplane and see nothing but a forest of green.

“I just hope that I get to see some of these trees grow up. I know that I will never be that person in that airplane looking down and seeing nothing but green but someone will someday. So that’s pretty awesome,” McLaughlin says.

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