In 2012, 296 years after it was planted, Chris Hartley noticed a tree. Hartley, then president of the Springdale Neighborhood Association, discovered that this neighborhood giant was on a lot slated for demolition. Working with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc., Hartley was able to protect the Chinquapin Oak as the city moved forward with clearing the lot. Four years later, in the fall of 2016, an IPL Project GreenSpace was completed to honor more than just this monumental tree.
Every year KIB accepts applications for its IPL Project GreenSpace program. The mission of these projects is to revitalize underutilized spaces. This process focuses on a cooperative relationship with the community to create spaces that bring people together and add to the health of our ecosystem. The Springdale neighborhood applied for the Chinquapin Oak Park in the spring of 2015 and was selected as a 2016 GreenSpace. Along with several community partners, KIB collaborated with Springdale residents to form and implement a design that reflected the significance of the space.
Given the age of this ancient tree, the neighborhood chose to honor the people, plants, and wildlife that would have been present around the tree’s planting. Using large eight-foot panels, the park tells the history of the neighborhood over the course of the tree’s life. On the reverse side of the panels, visitors to the park can learn about the native plants around the space and how residents of the area are connected to their environment. The panels are set on a round patio designed to reflect the rings of a tree. Native plantings surround the patio area and provide a pop of color when in bloom. None of the installations at the space would have been possible without the help of incredible volunteers from the neighborhood and beyond.
Customarily, KIB’s neighborhood partners host a celebration upon completion to bring the community together in their new space. Among various representatives of the Native American community, the neighborhood hosted Elder LeRoy Malaterre, originally from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota. Elder Malaterre gave a blessing to the space in which those gathered turned to face the cardinal directions and reflected on different elements of growing stronger with the earth.
The celebration of Springdale’s Chinquapin Oak Park was especially important for the neighborhood and KIB. This park does more than reclaim a vacant lot, protect an historic tree, and introduce more natives to the local ecosystem. Chinquapin Oak Park brings people together in an act of community engagement, but also in a collective learning experience. Here, residents of Springdale neighborhood learn more about how to care for the plants and wildlife in their local ecosystem, and about the history of the people and place that they call home. This is how we keep Indianapolis beautiful.