New Castle is joining the fight to try saving the American chestnut tree.
The city park board voted Monday to move forward with a program to add Osborne Park to a long-term statewide case study on trees that are endangered or “technically” extinct.
Osborne Park could soon receive a mix of American and Chinese chestnut trees and butternut (white walnut) purebred and hybrid from the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR).
New Castle High School teacher Diana Bowman initially contacted Park Superintendent Mike Bergum about the opportunity to partner with DNR on the research project.
Bowman said NCHS would be part of a 20-school study to work with the American chestnut tree. Bowman’s students would be responsible for the research part of the local project; the City of New Castle just needs to provide the land.
“The American chestnut tree is essentially extinct. We do not have any that are naturally reproducing at this time,” she told the park board. “About 50 years ago, a fungus was introduced into North America that is a blight that killed more than 4 billion American chestnut trees.”
Since that time, scientists have been trying to crossbreed different varieties of chestnut to develop a resistant strain. These are not genetically modified, simply crossbred.
All to try overcoming the fact that a keystone species tree in North America is basically gone, Bowman said.
“This is a chance for our students to actually help bring back something active,” she told the park board.
Donna Rogler, education specialist from the DNR Forestry department, explained that the project grew out of the National Association of State Foresters centennial celebration last year.
Rogler said the chestnut trees are coming from an existing Purdue University research program. While contacting Purdue about chestnuts, Rogler expanded the program to include the endangered butternut tree, too.
Rogler said the New Castle plot will get around 100 trees.
The local students would be responsible for taking annual measurements of the trees and making sure they survived as long as possible, especially in dry weather.
Bowman hopes she can make it an annual tradition for her students to gather the data. It could also help give those kids a sense of ownership of that part of the woods.
“It takes a long time and patience,” she said.
Bergum also sees this as a good chance to develop the areas northeast of Danielson Field.
“It could create a proactive setting moving forward – 25, 30, 50 years down the road – to make that area that is beneficial,” he said. “It’s out of the way and accessible to students. I think it would make an impact there.”
In other park news, Bergum updated his board on work at Baker Park. Dirt was moved over the weekend between Shelter houses 1 and 2 to make way for more playground equipment.
The park board also revised their lease agreement at Osborne Park with the New Castle Girls Youth Softball League.
“This thing hadn’t been updated in 10-plus years,” Bergum said.
Board president Patty Broyles said the park department seems to be on track, budget-wise. The board members plan to look at the budget every month.
“We don’t like surprises,” Broyles said.
Bergum also announced a “painting party” on Sunday morning at the New Castle Armory for individuals and groups who have signed up to paint some of the park picnic tables.
He hopes this project will help foster more pride in the park equipment and make a large impact on the wider community.
The New Castle Park Board also voted this week to open the city pool on June 1 and close it on July 31. The public hours will be 12-6 p.m.
The splash pad will be open to the public before the pool opens each day and after it closes.
On the topic of the pool, Bergum said new tile has been installed. It will need to cure for 30 days before the pool can reopen to the public.
Mayor Greg York told the park board people really appreciated being able to drive through the parks during the winter months. Broyles thanked the mayor’s office and the clerk-treasurer for making the Easter egg drive-thru at Baker Park such a success.