Finding history in the outdoors

One of the many beautiful vistas visitors find at EcoLab.

One of the many beautiful vistas visitors find at EcoLab.

One of the fun things about my job is the opportunity to leave the office and explore the state. On May 27, the Performing Arts & Education Department did just that, and visited Marian College’s EcoLab, whose staff has been involved in demonstrations at the museum for the exhibit Footprints: Balancing Nature’s Diversity. Many who are native to Indianapolis, or have lived here for quite a while, may not be aware of this natural treasure inside city limits. What fascinated me was not just its natural beauty, but also the history of the grounds.

The EcoLab is part of what was the Riverdale Estate, owned by one of the founder’s of the Indianapolis 500, James A. Allison. He commissioned Jens Jensen, a well known landscape architect who made native plants the centerpiece of his designs, to design the grounds of the estate. Staff and volunteers of the EcoLab have worked hard since 2000 to try to restore the grounds by bringing in more native plants and fighting invasive species. Parts of Jensen’s designs are still easy to find when touring the grounds: limestone steps leading from campus to the grounds; stone benches scattered through the grounds so one can rest and enjoy the scenery; and even half-moon pools made of stone that collect water from the natural springs.

These canals were created by beavers, one going to the left and the other to right, for easy travel.

These canals were created by beavers, one going to the left and the other to right, for easy travel.

My favorite part was learning about the beaver population that call EcoLab home. Their imprint on the grounds is evident anywhere you see water. There are several locations where the beavers have made homes and they love to challenge EcoLab staff by damming up waterways. But, what fascinated me most was that beavers love to create their own canal channels. By opening up waterways and creating these canals, beavers are able to forage for food more efficiently since they travel better in water than they do on land. Sounds very much like those Hoosiers in the early 1800s who, for a brief period, knew that travel could happen faster on water than on land. That is how the building of a canal system began.

The EcoLab is open to the public and you can enjoy the trails and the scenery from dawn to dusk. Staff also offer weekly tours and educational programs for school groups. If you want to learn more, check out their website at http://wetland.marian.edu/.

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