Students’ Restoration Ecology Project Comes to Life at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ

by Katie Bradley | Dec 08, 2014

Every other year, David Benson, Ph.D., science director of the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab and professor of biology at Marian University, teaches a “Restoration Ecology” course that allows students to develop an ecological restoration master plan for green spaces in Indiana. The class explores every aspect of restoration ecology from research, to applying for grants, to meeting with the client, to developing plans for the actual space.

“Restoration Ecology is a discipline that has an interesting history here at Marian University. We are home to one of the oldest restoration projects in the world, the Riverdale estate property of James Allison, designed using native plants by Jens Jensen in 1911.  So it makes sense that we offer this course,” says Dr. Benson.

Past students in this class developed restoration plans within the Marian University Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab on campus. Two years ago, students developed a master plan for the Jewish Community Center on Indianapolis’ northwest side.

This spring, Dr. Benson’s class developed a master plan for the two-acre landscape around St. Peter’s United Church in Carmel, Indiana. At the beginning of the project, the land was turf grass with no native plants.

After meeting with the client and working with Dr. Benson, the students developed a design that included two large rain gardens, a prairie, and the installation of trees. Since its development, the church adopted the plan and—with help from Dr. Benson and his class—have installed two rain gardens and are completing the rest of the planting this month.

“I learned that there is not just one way of completing a successful restoration project. These projects take lots of time, research, commitment, and patience. But overall, at the end of the project, comparing what the site looked like at the beginning, throughout, and at the end shows why it is important to be educated on what restoration is, how restoration techniques are carried out, and why everyone should be educated on the advantages to our environment in conducting restoration projects,” said Clara Garner ’17, who took the class this spring and is double majoring in biological sciences and secondary education.

Replacing turf grass with rain gardens decreases the amount of flooding and waste that runs off into rivers and waterways—a problem plaguing the city and state. Restoration projects also provides habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

“The church wants to be an example of how you can use green space as more than just a monoculture lawn that has to be mowed.  Installing native plants provides ‘value added’ benefits in cleaner water, flood control, habitat creation, and less carbon pollution. They are confident that other churches and property owners will see that native plantings are not only better for the environment, but also can be beautiful and more interesting landscapes as well,” said Dr. Benson.

Dr. Benson suggests contacting him if you have a property that you think might benefit from ecological restoration. “I’m always looking for the next project that my students can get hands-on experience working on,” he says.

Students interested in taking the course will see it on the schedule for Fall 2015.

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