Carmel clears beetle-battered trees for trail, community center

(WISH Photo)

CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — Five hundred trees are coming down near West Park, after Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation officials say they’ve been irreparably damaged by the Emerald ash borer.

West Park rendering (Provided Photo/Carmel Parks and Rec)

The invasive species came to the United States from Asia and has been known to eat Ash trees from the inside out. Michael Klitzing, CEO of Carmel Clay Parks and Rec, says the beetles hit the 40 acres west of West Park some years ago.

“Some of the trees are so compromised that a windstorm could actually cause the entire tree to fall,” Klitzing said, giving 24-Hour News 8 a tour of the park and the forest.

Klitzing explained his department is embarking on a $30 million, five- to seven-year development plan for West Park that includes building an 8,000-square-foot community center, new nature trails, an additional parking lot and an adventure low ropes course and playground in the woods. To do that, Klitzing says they’ll need to do a lot of ash borer spring cleaning.

“Five hundred trees is a lot of trees, and obviously we prefer to plan trees and preserve trees as opposed to take them out,” he said. “We have a playground that’s going to be incorporated into the woods. We don’t want to have a tree that’s at risk of falling on a kid or a member of the public on the playground.”

West Park rendering (Provided Photo/Carmel Parks and Rec)

The forest has 2,000 documented trees, so the project will clear 25 percent of the forest. Klitzing says the department does not plan on planting new trees but will use the space to forge new trails through the woods for park visitors. He also says the parks department has done their due diligence, calling in outside experts to confirm the 500 trees already dead or infected.

“Ash declines really quickly after an Emerald ash bore kill. It gets brittle,” explained Joe Rainwater, a certified arborist, already working on felling trees Monday afternoon.

“We could take a walk through the woods; you’d see things that are 10-, 12-, 16-inch diameter that have just broken and fallen in the time between when we came and initially looked and we started our work here. We don’t want anybody playing in here with that kind of weight just waiting to fall.”

Unfortunately, when Rainwater showed up at the West Park forest today, he discovered hundreds of additional trees had been marked with the same distinct pink paint professional crews used earlier.

“We have had a problem with vandalism,” Rainwater said. “Somebody came in and marked a bunch of trees that weren’t a part of the contract, so I’m going to go through one at a time as I cut and verify I’m getting the right trees.”

Rainwater says kids will be kids, but he is already putting in extra time to keep to the city’s schedule of clearing the 500 trees by March 31.

If all goes as planned, the multi-purpose community center and wooded playground should be complete by spring of 2019, with the remaining developments to follow in the following four to six years.