Reconnecting to Our Waterways’ (ROW) waterway committee volunteers meeting monthly to determine fun, positive and unique ways to connect the community with the waterways nearby. Last fall, discussions began between ROW’s Fall Creek and White River waterway committees to remove invasive (and harmful) honeysuckle, open up views to Fall Creek and create a rustic hiking path to what might be Indiana’s largest Hackberry Tree. Soon, they connected with ROW’s Central Canal Committee to work with youth from Groundwork Indy in a mentoring project to continue to further the connection between nature and young people in our waterway neighborhoods.
On Nov. 8, adult volunteers worked to clear some of the spaces and mark the paths. On Dec. 13, 15 youth joined along in a mentoring day with all three waterways working side by side towards a common goal while a Red-tailed Hawk pair looked on. In total, about 8,000 square feet of invasive honeysuckle was removed, clearing between 3-foot and 7-foot wide paths that make up the quarter-mile trail loop. The crew also cleared area along the Fall Creek Greenway for easy access to the loop trail, including a new space perfect for fishing. The Groundwork Indy’s Green Team members also returned to the space soon thereafter and repurposed railroad ties into steps along a particularly steep sections of the trail.
“It was great to be able to get out and work on the Big Hackberry Trail — it’s a great escape into nature and right in our very own urban backyard,” said Montell Hendricks, youth programs coordinator for Groundwork Indy.
The youth seem to have similar sentiments.
“It was exciting to watch their faces light up as they explored a natural paradise that they never knew existed,” Hendricks continued. “Many said that they had been curious about the location for a while but were never able to have clear access to satisfy their curiosity.”
Time working on the trail led to many more great questions from the Green Team youth, including:
Q: “How much does it cost to visit and use?”
A: There is no cost to visit and use the Big Hackberry Nature Trail, and that is true of all of the trails and greenways in and around Central Canal, the Canal Towpath and other Indianapolis waterways areas located on public parks greenways properties. Eagle Creek Park is the one Indy Parks property that does have an entrance fee.
Q: “Who is allowed to use the trail?”
A: Anyone can use the Big Hackberry Nature Trail, other parks, trails and greenways from dawn to dusk. These are public spaces that are acquired and maintained with public tax dollars.
Q: “What other trails are hidden around here?”
A: There isn’t a comprehensive map of “hidden” trails, but one we are aware of is the Urban Wilderness Trail, a four-mile natural loop trail along White River and Fall Creek near downtown and Near West Indianapolis.
Q: “Can you ride bikes on the trail?”
A: The Big Hackberry Nature Trail is a natural path that probably isn’t suitable for bikes. However, there are many paved or more defined paths throughout Indianapolis’ trails parks and greenways systems that are suited for bikes and can become a path through your own neighborhood or to connect with other neighborhoods, our downtown and other areas throughout the city.
“It was nice to be able to engage with and educate them on their public lands and give them some power to get out and take advantage of their neighborhood and all the resources that it has to offer both natural and physical,” Hendricks continued. “It was just as rewarding to observe the sense of accomplishment that can be seen in the youth from simply seeing a project steadily improve from an unusable community resource to completion as a functioning transportation route and resource for their community.”
The highlighted Hackberry Tree is suspected to be the largest of its species in Indiana, estimated between 150 to 200 years old, a rare size and age for the species. Lisa Milton (White River State Park and new White River committee Co-Chair) intends to get an accurate measure of the tree soon.
You can see the route and plan a hike to check out the new Big Hackberry Nature Trail at https://tinyurl.com/BigHackberryNatureTrail
The event was accomplished using ROW’s stringent COVID-19 guidance that dictated social distancing and masks, to ensure safety of all who participated. Later this year, when COVID restrictions are anticipated to ease, the three waterway committees hope to organize a Hackberry Canoe Race to introduce canoeing and kayaking to urban youth who have not had the opportunity to enjoy on-water experiences. In the meantime, the new trail offers another beautiful space along our waterways and greenways to view wildlife, get fit and experience the beauty of the waterway in the middle of the city.
This project is an excellent example of collective impact at work. In addition to the collaborations of waterways and partners, ROW was able to provide a grant to pay the youth and for supplies through the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust Event Grant funding. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful provided work gloves and trash bags, and LandWorx Engineering provided support and expertise. Indy Parks leadership also provided their assistance by walking the space with the eager community volunteers and granted permission for the invasive removal and nature trail installation.
Those interested in getting involved in the Central Canal Committee efforts, contact Groundwork Indy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 317-737-2810. Get involved in ROW’s other waterway efforts at www.ourwaterways.org; follow ROW on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @ourwaterways, or call 317-371-2788.