North Woods Nature Trail & Playground

The North Woods Nature Trail & Butterfly Garden completed the second phase of the EPF funded improvements to the north side Igleheart Park.  This project, the first of its scale for the Foundation, has resulted in much more than the tangible park improvement—it now serves as a “signature” of our organization and its ability to affect change through collaborative relationships with public, private, corporate, and other non-profit groups.  The project has since been recognized with two prestigious community awards:

The 2003 Outstanding Community Improvement Award presented by Operation City Beautiful (KEB), and Leadership Evansville’s award for Significant Project Leadership by Neighborhood and Community Organizations.

The purpose of the North Woods project was development of an existing misused 35-acre tract of upland forest (park property) into an educational nature trail. The finished project entails over two miles of woodland hiking paths with 15 educational signs and 50 tree identification markers. The trail is further enhanced by a circular entry deck, a crushed stone “Welcome Walkway,” a valley overlook, a natural classroom, the “Alcoa 51 Step Boardwalk,” and the Toyota Butterfly Garden.  What had been ignored and misused is now a family-oriented recreational attraction.

Initially, support for the project was solicited from the family who donated this land to the city for use as a park.  (Igleheart Family.) As nature enthusiasts, the Igleheart family members responded very positively to our vision for the planned project, and agreed to serve as its “Honorary Chairs.” The eldest of the remaining family members, Diane and James Igleheart, continue to express their enthusiastic support and were quoted as saying the project was, “exactly what our family hoped would happen” to the property when donated in the 1950’s.  It was the Evansville Rotary Club, however, that provided the impetus for the project’s initial implementation.  By selecting the planned trail as its 2003 Service Project, a funding grant of $14,000 was allocated and three workdays of volunteers were committed.  Soon, many other organizations came forward to share in the vision with financial and volunteer support. Sum total, 23 different organizations and over 150 different volunteers were involved in the project, including the following:

  • Non-profits:The Evansville Rotary Club, the Evansville Audubon Society, Operation City Beautiful, West Side Nut Club, North Side Kiwanis, & Tri-Kappa.
  • Public:The Department of Parks & Recreation, the Department of Urban Forestry, & Area Planning Commission.
  • Private:Toyota, Alcoa, ARC Construction, the Igleheart family, the Eykamp family, Backyard Fences & Decks, Lamar Outdoor Advertising, Eagle Scout Shawn Arendt, Eagle Scout Charles Tuggle, and Eagle Scout Tyler Green.

Although the Rotary Nature Trail at North Woods itself is a unique nature attraction, the true innovation of the program was achieved through collaboration with other groups as resources for funding and volunteer manpower. To officially open the trail in August of 2003, a “vine-cutting” ceremony was held.  Remarks by the Mayor, Rotary Club, Toyota, and Parks officials cited the project as “an excellent example of public, private, and non-profit collaboration.”  Contributions from these various sources were wide and varied.

With the pace set by the Evansville Rotary Club’s $14,000 grant and “sweat equity” commitment, Alcoa contributed $3,000 toward the educational signage and a “51 Step Boardwalk” to commemorate their 51 years in our community.  Arborists from the department of Urban Forestry and volunteers from the Evansville Audubon Society researched and wrote the text for 15 full-color signs encouraging nature education and preservation.  As an example, one sign entitled, “Downfall:  Friend of the Forest” has a photo graphic of a large decaying tree and text that educates on the importance of dead trees in providing food and shelter for forest animals and important nutrients to the soil.  Each sign also includes a relevant quote, this one from a renowned naturalist, Aldo Leopold.  Another Audubon Society volunteer mapped the trail system using existing city records and his own GPS system. Toyota awarded the project a $10,000 grant for the development of the trail’s Butterfly Garden and Wildlife Retreat.  Plantings, a fountain, stone elements, and educational signage make this portion of the trail a unique destination. After reading of the trail’s development, the West Side Nut Club, another community improvement group, stepped forward to offer its assistance in providing engraved stone trail markers and sponsor recognition plaques.  Bridges, overlooks, and entry decks were constructed as in-kind donations.  Eagle Scouts designed and constructed a natural classroom, decks, and benches. The spirit of collaboration, it seemed, was contagious!

None of the trail’s development would have been possible without the cooperation of the municipal Department of Parks & Recreation.  From the initial permit to improve the property, to the use of heavy equipment and skilled labor for clearing the trail, to assisting with the opening “vine-cutting” ceremony—city officials recognized the value of this great addition to existing public land at absolutely no cost to the taxpaying public.  One estimate of the projects actual worth if developed by traditional means put the value at $500,000.

Due to the sheer number of different groups, organizations, families, and individuals involved in this project, diversity was intrinsic. Ages of volunteers ranged from four to eighty.  Different races and ethnic backgrounds were represented in the membership of the various contributing non-profits (Evansville Rotary Club), as well as the sponsoring private organizations. (Toyota.)  Our handicapped population has also been served with the project, as the circular entry deck and nearby playground are ADA handicapped accessible.  The 50 yard crushed stone “Welcome Walkway” encourages visitors with strollers, seniors using walkers, and those otherwise physically impaired.

Each spring, a “clean-up” day is planned and organized by Foundation and Rotary leaders.  Volunteers work in cooperation with Department personnel to spread new mulch, clean up downed trees, and do whatever repairs are required to the wood elements and signs.  In 2004, a new trail loop was cleared and mulched to complete the “Honeysuckle Hollow” trail.

The trail is kept clean on an ongoing basis by the North Woods Trail Monitors, a group of volunteers chaired by Lois Schmidt and Carol Pettys.  (Photo) (link to Get Involved.) In addition, the Toyota Butterfly Garden and Wildlife Retreat have been adopted by a group of dedicated certified Master Gardeners for continued “loving care” and maintenance.

North Woods Handicapped Accessible Playground  &  Vectren Fitness  Cluster The first phase of the EPF North Woods Project, the Handicap Accessible Playground & Vectren Fitness Cluster, was dedicated in the Fall of 2002.  Since then, it hasn’t had much “down time!”  Children of all ages have found the nature-themed playground great fun.  Swinging bridges, rock climbing walls, jumping “pods”, and a variety of other activities keep youth active. With the increased use of the nearby Lloyd Swimming Pool, many Evansville residents are finding the playground a relief for smaller siblings of swim team members who are practicing or competing in meets.

The playground was the culmination of over a year’s worth of planning and fundraising by the EPF.  It is fully handicapped accessible and includes activities for those children who are wheelchair bound.

The “fitness cluster” part of the playground was sponsored by Vectren.  This area is geared to older children and includes equipment & activities to strengthen muscles, build endurance and improve balance.