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June 19, 2018 • Headline News
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Daren Baker Memorial Park, Milan, to host 8-acres of new pollinator habitat

Black-eyed Susan attracts pollinating insects and looks pretty, too. This native annual blooms in late spring and usually lasts until the fall. In the sunflower family, this showy flower can reseed itself in the garden, or can be planted in containers, too.

Jared Rogers

Staff Writer

To make a positive impact in the community, it takes “everyone doing what they can, where they are,” says USDA conservationist Tim Schwipps of Milan. For Schwipps, and other local professionals and citizens, this meant collaborating on a shared idea to create a new space with multiple benefits for both people and the environment.

It’s easy to drive past Daren Baker Memorial Park along Highway 101 and think that perhaps it’s just a shelter house, ballfield, and playground; a quaint, but aging little town park. Drive back into the park, however, and quickly spot much more. The park hosts several more ballfields, soccer fields, and playgrounds, two ponds, and a paved walking trail. Up until this spring, the park also had its own challenging tract: An eight-acre expanse that was being mowed weekly. It took two workers at least a full day riding back and forth to get the job done.

Local citizen and naturalist Steve Gutzwiller has a history of service at the park, helping to plant trees and install bluebird boxes in the past. To him, there seemed to be a better way to manage that tract; a way that included decreased labor and fuel usage, all of which adds up to savings for the town. Working with the USDA office in Versailles, the Milan Town Board, Park Board, and School Board, Gutzwiller helped seal the approval to repurpose the space to plant native grasses and wildflowers.

Such a move opens up a plethora of positive impacts. For people, the new space will more than double the trail length through the park, as paths will be maintained surrounding the rolling prairie. Walkers and joggers will be able to enjoy a touch of nature right in town as they use the space for exercise, socializing, or birdwatching. The Milan Cross Country team will also be able to host home meets once those trails are established. Home field advantage is paramount in sporting culture, and the confidence for young athletes to perform at home, with the convenience for fans to come and watch, can hardly be measured.

The space will present a prime opportunity for education. Since the park is within walking distance from both the elementary school and the high school / middle school complex, a valuable field-trip is accessible to students right at home. Topics regarding wildlife, land management, and conservation can all be showcased.

Finally, there is the wildlife. Bees, beetles, butterflies, and birds are all experiencing population decline due to habitat loss. According to the Xerces Society, a well-respected invertebrate conservation non-profit, species like the beautiful monarch butterfly are experiencing up to an 80% decline in recent years. If trends continue, the monarch and many other pollinators face a grim fate. Recouping the land at the park for native habitat is a big step in a positive direction for these important creatures.

Contractor Steve Mund, owner and operator of Hoosier Habitat, planted the field in early June, along with help from his father, Fred, and Schwipps. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources covered the cost of the seed, which is a mixture of annual and perennial flowers and warm-season grasses. Before planting, Steve burned down the existing fescue. Then, with a Great Plains Native Grass Series II planter rented from the USDA office, the precious seed was sown. The planter had a special middle insert that helped pull down the seed into the drill, since native grass seed is quite light and fluffy compared to many conventional crops.

After the planting, there is waiting. Some of the annual varieties planted will pop up rather quickly, and there may be some blooming flowers in the fall, Schwipps hoped. The real progress though, will be seen the following season, and even the year after that. “The perennials will develop their root systems,” Schwipps said, before they pop out their showy colors. In the meantime, the crew will monitor and control weeds deemed noxious with spot treatment.

Along with planting public spaces for all to enjoy, Schwipps, Mund, and Gutzwiller all encourage citizens to do their part in residential areas. Planting native trees, flowers, and shrubs can be just as showy as exotics, and often require less care. Varieties can be selected for existing landscaping, or larger plots can be sown where grass currently exists. With careful placement, prairie space can still look neat while cutting down on the amount of grass to be mowed. For more information on pollinator conservation and planting ideas, visit

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