Showing the World You Care

Under sunny skies and spring-like temperatures, nine Shirley Heinze volunteers gathered Monday, February 21, at Meadowbrook Nature Preserve to remove invasive Black Locust saplings.

The Meadowbrook Monday workday was part of the organization’s ongoing reforestation effort, which has seen staff and volunteers plant 50,000 trees on the property in the past seven years, said volunteer coordinator Christine Maloney.

Maloney gathered the group at the start of the day to explain the process.

flowering black locust tree
Black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia)

Black locust, a member of the pea family, is not native to Indiana, and the trees release too much nitrogen into the soil, making conditions inhospitable for native trees, such as oaks and tulip poplars.

Black locust grows very aggressively and quickly overtakes a habitat with its seeds and underground runners. Maloney explained that removing the black locust saplings “makes space” for other native trees that aren’t “nitrogen fixing.”

“We want to give those baby oak trees a chance to grow up,” said Maloney.

After volunteers used loppers and hand saws to cut the saplings low to the ground, Maloney applied an herbicide spot treatment. Maloney said that while she personally doesn’t like using herbicide, it’s an important part of the organization’s land management process. “We can be very specific where the herbicide goes,” said Maloney. “These plants are tenacious. The more we can do now, the less restoration we have to do later.”

Off trail, volunteers made piles of the saplings, which will provide homes for small mammals and food for insects as the branches decompose.

Besides helping Shirley Heinze Land Trust in its reforestation effort, each volunteer had individual reasons for coming out.

First-time volunteer Michael Leland hopes to learn to identify invasive species. Leland recently purchased a 20-acres of farm fields, woods, and wetlands in Michigan City for the sole purpose of restoring the habitat. “I like to plant trees,” said Leland, a long-time Valparaiso resident. Leland likes to plant trees so much that, in the past, he obtained permission to purchase and plant trees at one of Valparaiso’s roundabouts and the Valparaiso Ivy Tech campus. “We work so hard to rapidly destroy the world, but that’s my contribution,” said Leland. “I’m interested in doing whatever I can to help.”

Volunteer Karen Cervak cutting a black locust sapling

Susan Proffitt, a retired attorney, splits her time between Chicago and Ogden Dunes. She sees the outdoors as her gym. “I like being outside, and I get my aerobics in,” said Proffitt, a 10-year Shirley Heinze volunteer.

Valparaiso resident Monty Parker is working on his Master Gardener and Master Naturalist certifications. “We’re required to put in volunteer time,” said Parker, who is also a new volunteer.

Liberty Township resident and first-time volunteer Scott Ness gives his time freely in his community. Ness, who retired three years ago, also volunteers at the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum, Giant Paw Prints dog rescue, the Duneland YMCA, and the Chesterton Art Center. “I’ve been a widower for a few years now, so I try to keep busy,” said Ness. “I like being outside and meeting new people. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

Shirley Heinze provided all tools, work gloves, water, and snacks to keep the volunteers safe and cared for, and Maloney thanked them for their service. “You are showing the world you care about Shirley Heinze and the world we are caring for,” said Maloney.


– Sue O’Leary, February 2022