PORTAGE | For the most part, the trees within the city's parks are healthy.
The exception, like in most region communities, are the ash trees, which have been infested by the emerald ash borer.
A recent tree survey conducted by Soil Solutions Inc. of Valparaiso for the Portage Park Department indicates that 56 percent of the department's 500 acres are covered by trees — oak, maple, locust, cherry, cottonwood and the imperiled ash. Altogether, the survey, which hand-counted trees at smaller parks, but estimated at the larger sites, estimates there are more than 37,000 trees in the city's parks.
"Overall it (the health of the trees) is very good. The oaks are in great shape," said Lydia Miramontes-Loyd, a botanist with Soil Solutions, adding there are obviously some non-native trees planted at the parks along with species like cherry trees and black locusts that have naturally moved into disturbed areas in the parks and, especially, along the two bike trails.
The survey, which cost $10,000, was necessary for several reasons, said Park Superintendent Jenny Orsburn. It was mandated as part of the city's Clean Community Challenge designation by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. It is also necessary in the city's quest to be designated a Tree City.
More importantly, she said, it give the parks an idea of what type of trees are within the parks, their condition and the diversity of species.
Orsburn said the immediate next step will be to tag ash trees that have been affected by the emerald ash borer. The pest has most affected ash trees at Gilbert Park on Willowcreek Road, where 10 of the 16 ash trees have been infected with the insect, and within the flood plain areas of Imagination Glen Park where an as yet undetermined number are infested.
The affected trees will eventually die, she said. They will be removed from Gilbert Park, possibly as early as this fall or next spring and be replaced with another species.
"It is going to be noticeable at Gilbert Park. If people see us taking down trees it is because they are infected, not just because we're taking down trees," said Orsburn, adding those trees are relatively small yet and likely will be taken down by staff.
At Imagination Glen, however, some of the ash trees are massive. Those trees will be reviewed to determine if they are a hazard.
"Do we let it die and fall down or is that going to create a hazard," she said, adding those that could fall over trails or fishing areas likely would be removed. Because of their size, the department would likely need professional help. Because of their size and their numbers, according to the survey, the demise of the ash trees could drastically change the landscape in the flood plain.
Orsburn said the department also will be seeking a grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources so the survey can include street trees within the city.
Eventually, said Orsburn, the information gathered will be a resource to the public as well as the parks department in assisting in landscaping throughout the city.