Renewal, restoration and the campus canopy

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two years since IU Bloomington sustained some of the worst tree damage in its history, the result of violent storms that swept through our campus and the surrounding community.

More than 300 trees, including several large, old-growth trees, were lost during the May 2011 storms that cut a destructive path through such heavily wooded areas of campus as Dunn’s Woods, Dunn Meadow and the Arboretum, which experienced particularly heavy damage. The fallen trees all across campus were a truly sad sight, and there were concerns that—after three severe storms in the course of 11 months and a summer of significant drought—it might be many years before we could replace all of the trees we’d lost.

New trees planted in the Dunn Meadow Grove.

New trees planted in the Dunn Meadow Grove.

In true Btown fashion, though, it took little time for members of the campus and surrounding community to band together and dedicate their energies toward what can only be described as a massively successful rebuilding effort. Within days of the devastation, many stepped up to help, including former IU Trustee Steve Ferguson and his wife, Connie, who donated 150 trees to help kick-start the process of restoring what legendary IU President Herman B Wells famously called our “precious islands of green and serenity.” IU President Michael McRobbie and his wife, Laurie Burns McRobbie, personally contributed funding to purchase and plant some 30 trees in a grove near Bryan House, and the IU Foundation quickly launched a formal campaign to find donors for other targeted groves across campus.

Since June 2011, nearly 1,200 trees have been planted throughout campus, with another 1,200 scheduled to be planted this year. More than 400 donors have given around $350,000 to restore 13 named groves, all of which now feature plaques identifying the sponsors who helped rebuild them. Among those donors were members of IU’s Women’s Philanthropy Council, a particularly motivated group that raised more than $17,000 in just two weeks.

“The effort in response to the storm has been incredible,” said Mia Williams, the university’s landscape architect. “I think it was within the first 24 or 48 hours afterward that Steve Ferguson came forward with his donation of trees to start the rebuilding process. Even though it was quickly becoming summer and a difficult time to think about planting, we did get his trees installed, and, looking back, it was an incredibly important thing to have done. Trees take a long time to establish and grow, and time spent planning and designing can quickly put the eventual recovery off by another year. By starting to plant immediately, the recovery started immediately.”

The success of the recovery effort, Williams says, means that IU Bloomington is on its way to reaching its goal of doubling the number of trees on campus and continuing to be recognized for its commitment to preserving and protecting its natural beauty.

A plaque recognizing the Dunn Meadow Grove, supported through the generosity of former IU Trustee Steve Ferguson and his wife, Connie.

A plaque recognizing the Dunn Meadow Grove, supported through the generosity of former IU Trustee Steve Ferguson and his wife, Connie.

And this is where a story that started with storms and sadness takes an even happier turn.

For the fifth year in a row, IU Bloomington has been named a Tree Campus USA by the national Arbor Day Foundation, which recognizes colleges and universities for effective campus forest management and engaging staff and students in conservation goals. IU Bloomington has been a Tree Campus USA since the inaugural year of the program in 2008, which, as Williams puts it, “just seems natural for our woodland campus.”

As in previous years, IU Bloomington students will plant trees on campus to celebrate Arbor Day and the Tree Campus USA designation, adding to the remarkable renewal and restoration of this campus’ beautiful canopy.

View a photo gallery of a past Arbor Day tree planting. Go here for a related story about work done to repair the Adam and Eve statue in Dunn’s Woods.

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