Students visiting Pokagon State Park on Oct. 15, 2010, walk through a tunnel of big bluestem, a native prairie grass that has been reintroduced to the Steuben County park.
KPC News Service
Once again, it has been announced that prairie grasses have started growing alongside Indiana roadways as part of a research project involving Purdue University and the Indiana Department of Transportation.
For decades Purdue has teamed up with INDOT to try to come up with better alternatives to turf grass for planting in limited access highway medians and roadsides. Over the years, the research has included both prairie grass and wildflowers. In fact, examples of these experiments can be seen around the state.
Currently warm season prairie grasses are beginning to take root at eight research sites around the state, the Associated Press reported last week. INDOT says the plants will help fight erosion and defend against invasive plants that threaten the state’s ecosystem. A diverse mix of species will bloom from May through October.
The highway department says the root systems of native plants extend deep into the soil, helping to reduce erosion. The Purdue research project will measure the environmental benefits of the eight native plantings, including the grasses’ ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
INDOT says taxpayers will benefit from lower maintenance costs through reduced mowing and limited herbicide applications.
From aesthetic and biological points of view, it will return these roadsides to more native ecosystems. Take a drive east on I-80 into eastern Ohio and throughout Pennsylvania and you will see that these states’ departments of transportation have not tried to tame the mountains through which the highway traverses.
There is much native beauty in prairie grasses (though some who are used to manicured lawns might find them unsightly). Areas throughout northeast Indiana, through the work of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and private groups working to restore native habitats, have taken land back to native prairies or have rejuvenated these areas to their original states.
To be certain, cutting a highway like I-69 or I-80-90 can do much damage to the natural state of the land, but that doesn’t mean every roadside needs to look like a golf course. No offense to golf course owners and operators, but Indiana’s roadsides would be much more pleasing to the eye and environment if the land looked and was treated as it once was from the hilly terrain of southern Indiana to the prairies and meadows of northern Indiana and points in between.