- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) - By the end of next year, a forest planted in Franklin to replace dozens of flood-damaged homes will have about twice the number of trees it has now.

But residents will have to wait several years before the trees grow taller and the area takes on a more forest-like appearance.

Right now, about 1,500 to 2,000 trees are in the ground in the area bordered by Nineveh Road and South and Dunn streets. The area used to be a neighborhood of about 70 small homes until several feet of water destroyed them in the 2008 flood.

The urban forest group is preparing for the biggest planting yet with about 2,000 trees planned by the end of 2015. That planting can happen after four flood-damaged homes that the city has been working to buy and demolish since 2010 are torn down in the spring.

The goal is to have about 4,500 trees in the forest by 2016 and for residents to be able to enjoy nature paths or have students study the woods, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

The urban forest was the idea of Franklin resident Jim Crane to replace flood-damaged homes bought and torn down by the city.

Franklin is waiting to purchase and demolish the final four homes in the area. Franklin Development Corp., a nonprofit agency that was created with city tax dollars, purchased the houses through a tax sale last year and will be take ownership this fall. Due to financial issues with each property, the city was not able to buy them. However, since taxes weren’t paid for more than 18 months, the organization could buy them at tax sale.

The city then will be able to buy the properties from the organization and pay to demolish the houses by spring, Franklin senior planner Joanna Myers told the Daily Journal (https://bit.ly/1qJyPIo ). Once the houses are gone, trees can be planted on those properties, Crane said.

The city has been able to use federal grant money to purchase and demolish the flood-damaged homes, and Franklin officials decided to reforest the area to help prevent future flooding damage. In the event of another flood, the additional trees could help drink up or hold floodwater in the low-lying areas, which would help protect the remaining homes in the area, McGuinness said.

As the houses started coming down, volunteers led by Crane began planting trees to start building the urban forest. The planting schedule has been spread across five years, but volunteers will try to plant about 1,000 more seedlings, which are typically about knee high, and around 500 more 5-foot-tall saplings in 2015. That will be the largest yearly planting yet in the forest.

The trees, trail markers and paths have been paid for with donations from residents and grants through the Johnson County Community Foundation. The city can buy 100 seedlings for about $35 from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, while the taller, more mature saplings can cost $50 to $100 or more each, Crane said. All of the planting has been done by volunteers.

“Altogether when the thing is done, we should have planted somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 to 4,500 trees,” Crane said.

Crane and volunteers will plant about 50 saplings this fall and will need more help next year as the city purchases hundreds of the larger trees, he said. The seedlings are easier to plant because a tractor is used to dig rows, like crops, for the small trees, Crane said.

Although the rows look mechanical now, nature will take over and shape the forest depending on how trees grow, which trees die and have to be removed and what directions branches reach to try to grab sunlight. That will help determine where additional trails might run, where clearings might be for a bench or small fountain and whether additional trees might be needed to fill in bare spots, making the forest look more organic, Crane said.

“In its first full year, it’s not going to be very impressive, but in the next few years I expect it will,” McGuinness said.

The trees that have been planted so far are faring well, Franklin parks assistant superintendent Rocky Stultz said. Typically about 75 percent to 85 percent of trees that are planted survive their first few years, and the urban forest is doing at least that well, if not better, Stultz said. Crane estimated that only about 10 percent of the initial trees haven’t survived.

The city parks department monitors the trees’ health and maintains the surrounding land to keep it free of weeds and tall grass, McGuinness said. That maintenance has to continue for several years until the trees mature, he said.

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Information from: Daily Journal, https://www.dailyjournal.net

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