Sycamore Land Trust

Environmental Education News

Restoring the American Chestnut

May 6, 2013 – The American chestnut blight changed everything. A once-magnificent tree abundant across a large expanse of eastern forest and extending westward to Indiana, the species was all but eliminated over most of its range. The blight introduced from Asia in the early 1900s quickly spread and destroyed most chestnuts. Today, only a few isolated pockets remain in North America. In the first American chestnut planting at an Indiana public school, students guided by Sycamore Land Trust’s Environmental Education Program are actively involved in restoring the species.

Students measure a newly-planted tree to begin tracking data. Photo by Carroll Ritter.

Students measure a newly-planted tree to begin tracking data. Photo by Carroll Ritter.

Researchers with the American Chestnut Foundation and universities such as Purdue University have been breeding blight-resistant strains of chestnut. By backcross breeding 97 percent native American chestnut with 3 percent resistant Chinese chestnut, they may have produced a mostly-native tree that can withstand blight. Purdue University and the Indiana Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation are leading the way in Indiana, with plantings across the state. They will conduct studies on long-term growth and survival of the plantings.

Sycamore Land Trust Environmental Education Coordinator Carroll Ritter had been following this work and believed that the outdoor lab at Salem Community Schools could be a good place for a chestnut planting. Adding a chestnut reintroduction component to the outdoor lab – which already contains a 16-acre prairie restoration, wetland enhancement, and hardwood planting – would make it even more valuable to the students and local environment. Ritter contacted Dr. Michael Saunders at Purdue and formed a team of foresters and researchers to implement this plan.

The team began Phase 1 of the project this spring, including site preparation and designing a methodology for tracking the results of the planting. The major emphasis of this effort is to involve students from all grade levels in planting, watering, tracking growth, and monitoring survival. Over the course of several weekends, students helped plant four varieties: pure American chestnut, Chinese chestnut, a cross between the two, and a “Restoration 1.0” chestnut developed through 30 years of research by the American Chestnut Foundation. The Restoration 1.0 trees are the leading candidate for reintroducing the chestnut in North America, and students will help track the results.

Salem High School student teachers and advisors begin chestnut project on their school grounds_webThe lab will be used by advanced biology classes to study topics including ecology, modern genetics, and botany.  This hands-on experience outdoors gives students a tangible way to experience what normally takes place in only the classroom.  The outdoor lab is also an example of the emerging phenomenon of “citizen science” wherein data collected by citizens is fed back into the national effort to restore the American chestnut.

Salem High School students, teachers, and advisors begin the chestnut project on their school grounds. Photo by Carroll Ritter.

The magnitude of this project is a testament to the outstanding cooperation of teachers, administrators, and students at Salem Community Schools.  “The ongoing development of a 16-acre prairie, wetland, riparian corridor improvement, invasive species removal, and 6-acre tree planting is almost unheard of for a school system,” Ritter explained. “With the inclusion this research plot reintroducing the American chestnut, we truly have a gem of a project.”

“Interact Club” Volunteers at Lake Lemon 

April 5, 2013 – Ten students from Bloomington High School North’s Interact Club gave their time during a workday for club members at our 15-acre Lake Lemon Woods Preserve. Ongoing trail construction will provide an opportunity for hiking and outdoor education for all ages. The preserve also has a kiosk constructed by a former Indiana University student to create a place for interpretive signage at the trailhead. Eventually, we hope that the upper trail portion will include guided interpretation for blind and visually impaired people seeking immersion into nature.

Students in the Interact Club volunteered their time to construct a trail at Lake Lemon Preserve.

Students in the Interact Club volunteered their time to construct a trail at Lake Lemon Preserve. Photo by Carroll Ritter.

Students Give Conference Presentation on Outdoor Lab

March 29, 2013 – Four Salem High School students recently gave a presentation about an outdoor laboratory project at the Conservation Happenings conference at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. With guidance from Sycamore Land Trust’s Environmental Education Program on design and implementation of an outdoor laboratory, students and teachers are transforming 60 acres next to Salem Community Schools into vibrant educational resource.

Salem High School teacher John Calhoun (L), four of his students, and Sycamore Environmental Education Coordinator Carroll Ritter present the outdoor lab project.

Salem High School teacher John Calhoun (L), four of his students, and Sycamore Environmental Education Coordinator Carroll Ritter present the outdoor lab project.

The outdoor lab consists of a native prairie, wetland restoration, invasive species control, a cypress planting on a small lake, and tree planting. In addition, a reintroduction of the magnificent American Chestnut will provide opportunities for scientific research. During the presentation, the expansive nature of this project and the passion exhibited by the students impressed an audience of people working to conserve nature across southern Indiana.




Sycamore Launches Phenology Initiative

March 11, 2013 – Chances are you notice, even unconsciously, what is happening around you as plants and animals go through life cycles, especially during the spring and fall as the seasons shift. That’s phenology: the study of recurring plant and animal life cycles, particularly their timing and relationships with weather and climate.

National Phenology Network visualization tool screenshotSycamore Land Trust has partnered with the National Phenology Network so that people can become “citizen scientists” by reporting their observations in a national database, Nature’s Notebook. Nature’s Notebook is valuable because it provides a way to harness individual observations to see larger trends, including ones that may be indicators of climate change.

The National Phenology Network provides a smart phone app and a visualization tool, an interactive map of the data submitted by users. Check it out and consider becoming a contributor yourself! Easy instructions for joining this Sycamore initiative are posted here. Phenology can help people connect with nature and it makes a great family activity.


Li’l Hikers Offerings Expand

February 21, 2013 – For several years, Sycamore Land Trust has offered a series of outings for families with children. Parents tell us they appreciate this chance to introduce children to nature at a young age, and we want to give more families the experience. Therefore, we are going expand the Li’l Hikers series to offer outings more frequently.

We’ll announce upcoming Li’l Hikers outings via The Twig (the newsletter our members receive) and our website, e-newsletter, and social media. If you’re not already on our e-mailing list, you can sign up here.

We’re very excited to offer you more Li’l Hikers outings and give more families the chance to participate in this life-shaping experience. If you have any questions, please contact Katrina at 812-336-5382 x100 or