It was nature’s way of saying you don’t belong here.
Silver maples — the tree of choice for early developers in Clintonville’s neighborhoods, just five miles north of Ohio State’s campus — were an out-of-place addition in the 1920s. They were native to Franklin County but not the nearby ravines, and their soft wood proved too supple for the rigors of Ohio’s wind and ice storms.
Kim Kovarik, special assistant to the vice provost in Ohio State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, lost two mature maples in her front yard to an ice storm several years ago, adding to the bare patches of lawn throughout a community that used to be thickly forested.
The timing of her loss, however, couldn’t have been more perfect. In the spring of 2009, Clintonville resident Julie Smiley was on a mission to replant the community and had convinced the former city forester, Jack Low, to help her do that. She told Pete Kovarik, Kim’s husband and a biology instructor at Columbus State Community College, about her plan.
“It dawned on Pete that this presented an unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for urban ecological restoration,” Kim Kovarik said. “Rather than just plant trees, why not plant the tree species that historically grew in the areas between the ravines?”
The conversations between neighbors became the first steering committee of the Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum, an eclectic mix of academics from Ohio State, CSCC, Ohio Wesleyan and folks with a sense for business and getting things done.
Pete Kovarik, LOUA’s vice president, knew the city didn’t have a strong supply of native trees, and he knew the group was going to have to get a grant, community and city buy-in and a steady stream of volunteers in order to make the arboretum a success.
On the tree side, Kovarik asked Dan Struve, Ohio State professor of Horticulture and Crop Science, now emeritus, to join the LOUA board. Struve’s research has long been in native plant communities and gene preservation, and he always sought to extend his research into the campus community.
Struve was thrilled to join the effort because it was a chance to extend the life of not just Ohio native trees, but those found directly in central Ohio.
“We have these magnificent older trees, and they’re not going to live forever,” he said. “The only way to preserve them is to grow their seedlings so some of their genetics will be around for the next 200 or 300 years.”
Struve provided LOUA plant material from the OSU Student Nursery, including black gum, persimmon, pawpaw, Ohio buckeye and a variety of oaks (white, red, schumard and shingle).
Native trees, Struve said, are difficult to grow under current commercial nursery production methods because much of their root system is lost during transplanting, resulting in death or slow growth as the root system regenerates. So Struve developed a container system that mitigated the root loss.
Struve also was interested to see whether the trees would thrive in a planting method that went against common urban forestry practices, such as planting different kinds of trees along the curb rather than interspersing a sequence of similar trees.
LOUA’s partners — Friends of the Lower Olentangy and United Crestview Area Neighbors — secured a grant from the Columbus Foundation at the end of 2010, and the plantings began in the fall of 2011. Kim Kovarik said without the 30 to 40 Ohio State students who volunteered to help, LOUA would never have completed the task of planting 180 canopy trees. The city of Clintonville followed with 50 more mid-sized trees in 2012, and LOUA is planning to install 1,000 understory trees, such as redbuds and dogwoods, this year.
Struve said 90 percent of the 2011 plantings survived last year’s drought, a testament to the community’s desire to make the arboretum a reality. While the city is ultimately responsible for the curbside trees, homeowners made sure the new trees were watered continuously. Homeowners were entitled to opt out of the plantings, but very few did.
“Getting all these people to work together on a common goal is pretty incredible,” Struve said. “They very much so surprised me with their success.”
To give it a true arboretum feel, LOUA built a wooden kiosk with maps of the arboretum in the parking lot of Indianola Informal K-8 School, using Clintonville resident and Ohio Wesleyan Professor John Krygier’s experience with geographic information system mapping to create an accurate representation. The group has hosted walking tours for the school kids, including Krygier’s own children at Indianola.
“I grew up in Wisconsin, where city trees were numerous and large — a key part of neighborhood identity,” Krygier said. “When we moved here 13 years ago, our neighborhood here in South Clintonville had a mishmash of odd, missing and even decrepit trees. The idea of a planned arboretum of city trees, highlighting native species, even though it would take a long time to mature, seemed a perfect way to improve the neighborhood.
“Overall, the arboretum project will make for an ecologically improved city neighborhood, where community members are drawn together to work on a long-term project that will shape the experience of the neighborhood far into the future.”
The next step, Kim Kovarik said, is to convince homeowners to plant native trees on their private property as well to give the 290-acre arboretum a truly woodland feel.
“We have the historic homes, we just don’t have the large trees yet,” said Pete Kovarik.
“They don’t look like much right now, but in as little as five years some of these smaller trees will be getting your attention.”
Earth Day Events
Play your part in creating a more sustainable university, community and planet. The Ohio State University is standing together with partners across the university and our community in celebration of Earth Day. Events are scheduled throughout the month of April, including guest lectures, facility tours, information sessions, networking opportunities and much more. To learn more about how you can participate, visit the complete Calendar of Earth Day Events at earthday.osu.edu.
Why Clintonville needs trees
It was not simply aesthetics that drove Clintonville Township residents to create an arboretum. The dearth of trees left the surface impermeable to water, which led to increased runoff during heavy rains. That in turn accelerated erosion within the ravines surrounding the township, which includes the Glen Echo neighborhood.
Clintonville restored the eroded slopes in Glen Echo Park in 2008, but that did nothing to stop the runoff.
“A simple way to reduce urban runoff is to plant tree canopies that overlap streets and sidewalks, along with under-growth trees that supplement and stabilize the soil,” said Pete Kovarik, vice president of the Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum and an entomologist. “Tree trunks and roots help to move water deep into the soil. Leaves transpire or evaporate water into the atmosphere, helping to prevent surface flooding. In the long run, this process also helps to moderate and ‘regularize’ rainfall patterns.”
There are other benefits as well. Kovarik said sans native trees, the neighborhoods surrounding the ravines have nothing coax over the wildlife, including songbirds and butterflies that depend on such trees for food and habitat.
“We’re so close and yet so far from the ravines, so it’s why we decided to do this,” Kovarik said. “The kids in the neighborhoods, they’ve never seen a toad or much of the wildlife that should be here, and this is for the greater good and ecological restoration on a scale that’s never been done before.”