Backers hope idea of urban arboretum catches on


While not every area in Franklin County can be turned into a sort of plantation for trees, even the most urbanized sections could benefit from a little preservation effort.

That's what Shelby Conrad hopes members of the Columbus chapter of the Wild Ones take home with them after hearing a presentation Saturday, Feb. 9, from the vice president of the Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum in Clintonville.

Peter Kovarik, an entomologist and researcher who teaches at Columbus State Community College, will be the principal speaker at 10 a.m. at the Whetstone branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, 3909 N. High St. His topic will be "Going Green in the Neighborhood: The Story of the Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum."

The Wild Ones, a nonprofit environmental education and advocacy organization with chapters around the country, grew out of a 1977 landscaping workshop attended by nine people in Milwaukee. It "promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities," according to its website.

Conrad, a Clintonville resident who is on the program committee for the Columbus chapter, said she invited Kovarik to address the group, which normally meets the second Saturday of the month at Inniswood Metro Park, with a goal of inspiring its members to take on smaller-scale restoration projects in their own neighborhoods.

"Any efforts to improve the quality of the air, the water and just encourage wildlife to come into our back yards and neighborhoods is worthwhile," Kovarik said last week.

Conrad, who has lived in Clintonville's Crestview neighborhood since 1990, said she was among the first to begin going into Glen Echo Park, now part of the arboretum, to pick up trash and, later, to remove invasive species.

"I didn't want my dog to have cut paws, is how I got started," Conrad said.

She also participated in Friends of the Ravines work days, pulling out plants that aren't native to the area and collecting garbage. However, it was not until Kovarik and his wife, Kim, and several others became involved that the underpinnings for what became an urban arboretum began to fall into place.

"He and Mike McLaughlin just soared out of nowhere and put the whole thing together," Conrad said. "That is so innovative. The urban arboretum is just an incredibly creative idea."

McLaughlin, president of the arboretum steering committee, said he would also attend the Feb. 9 presentation.

"It can be replicated," Kovarik said. "It's a pretty simple formula. It's just figuring out what the tree canopy and the species list would have been for the area and just trying to bring that back as best as possible.

"This is all about preserving our wildlife and our diversity, and you can do that."