There is a great deal of discussion about the importance of diversity in cities, but have you ever thought about the importance of biodiversity in urban areas? Imagine a manicured park with a carpet of thick green turf and only one type of tree, maybe a maple. While it would provide a nice shady spot for a picnic on a hot sunny day, it wouldn’t provide much food for wildlife. Maples do not have nuts to feed the squirrels or flowers to feed the butterflies. The park would also be very susceptible to a disease that wiped out maple trees.
The quality of a natural space is often evaluated based on the number of different species sharing the same environment. The greater the variety of different species, the healthier the place. Urban nature preserves provide important spaces for this much needed diversity of life in the city. Ideally they create corridors which connect green spaces in the city and allow wildlife to move about safely. The same concept should be applied to connecting children in cities to green spaces. Child-life corridors which allow children to move safely from their homes to natural places should also be planned.
One perfect example of this type of nature preserve is the John M. Craddock Wetland Nature Preserve. Located in Muncie at the corner of Bunch Boulevard and Gavin Street, it runs along the White River next to the Cardinal Greenway White River Corridor Trail. According to John Craddock, the 27-acre site supports a wide variety of organisms including a small deer herd, fox, woodchucks, waterfowl, hawks and amphibians. “It has three distinct ecological areas; about one third Upper Hardwood Forest, one third Wetlands and one third Prairie Grasses/Wildflowers. The preserve gives the citizens of our community the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and wildlife and still be within the city limits of Muncie,” John says. Support from the Ball Brothers’ Foundation has created trails, benches, bike racks, and a viewing pavilion with a living green roof. Its location off the Greenway provides safe access for families from the surrounding neighborhoods.
Work is underway on Muncie’s newest urban nature spot, Dutro-Ernst Woods, just west of town on Kilgore Avenue. When completed in 2016 the Red-tail Land Conservancy property will offer visitors a chance to walk trails through a prairie, oldfields, and a reforested woodland. The 33-acre preserve will offer a place to enjoy and learn about nature along an otherwise commercial corridor. Christy Woods, Minnetrista, Hughes Nature Preserve and the Greenways also offer easily accessible natural places for wildlife and people in Muncie.
Nature-rich urban areas don’t have to be limited to nature preserves, parks, and trails. Schoolyards, community centers, churches and even your own backyard can be planted with native grasses, plants and trees that will support wildlife. Through the National Wildlife Federation you can even certify your natural area as a backyard habitat.
Conclusive evidence demonstrates that time spent in nature improves physical, mental and spiritual health. Increasing access in cities to rich natural places can bridge the socioeconomic health gap in urban areas. Strong schools, health care services, and infrastructure are essential for a community’s vitality. Likewise abundant, diverse, accessible green spaces are essential to the wellbeing, economic prosperity, and quality of life in a city. The choice is yours as to where you spend your time and how our community grows: coneflowers or concrete, butterflies or blacktop?
For additional information about creating or certifying your backyard habitat see www.nwf.org