Every year for more than a decade, hundreds of children and Bloomington residents were bused to a 10-acre field on the southwest side to learn how to plant trees.
The trees they planted were no larger than sticks or even pencils at first. Now they’re more than 20 feet tall and make up what some call Batchelor Forest. The Monroe County Public Library Board of Trustees met last week and approved a plan to build a new library branch on about six acres of land — right where Batchelor Forest is located.
The plan was made in agreement with the Monroe County Community School Corporation because Batchelor Middle School shares the property.
Mike Scherer, a retired member of the school board, started organizing tree festivals in the 1990s to teach children and community members about planting trees and conservation. He said he worked with the Department of Natural Resources and tree committees every year to bring fifth and sixth graders to the field next to Batchelor Middle School to plant trees so the school corporation didn’t have to spend as much money on mowing.
Scherer said they planted trees native to Indiana, and 10 acres of land were reforested over that period from 1999 to around 2010. He said they planted trees at schools in Bloomington and Monroe County, but the Batchelor Forest was by far their largest project. The library would potentially take up much of that space.
“Six acres is a lot for a library branch,” he said.
Thomas Coleman, a retired IU professor and former member of the Bloomington Tree Commission, planted trees with his grandson at Batchelor Forest when his grandson was in elementary school. Coleman spoke at the library board’s meeting during the public comment period, but after the board voted to approve the location. He told the board about Batchelor Forest, its history and all those who were involved in creating it.
At the meeting, Coleman said getting rid of the forest would be detrimental to Bloomington’s status as a tree-loving city. He said from what he saw, the new library branch would replace about three-fourths of the trees in Batchelor Forest.
There is no marker designating the area as a forest. Batchelor Forest was named the project of the year in 2002 by the Indiana Urban Forest Council. An astronomical observatory built by students is also located on the edge of property. Building plans show that becoming a parking lot.
After the meeting, Coleman reached out to other former members of the tree commission and county council members to let them know about the plans for Batchelor Forest and the new library branch.
Coleman posted in a Bloomington Facebook group Sunday asking for people to comment on the proposed branch location. The post has more than 50 comments as of Tuesday evening.
“I was in my first year of teaching at University Elementary School the year the trees were planted outside of Batchelor, and I was able to take my class over to help with the planting,” Bloomington teacher Erin Cerwinske commented. “Now as a home owner in the area, I often walk my dog through the area and am amazed at the growth over the past fourteen years! It’s tremendous to think about all the hands and heart that went into creating such a space!”
Many commenters were concerned about whether the library planned to replant or make up for the loss of trees.
“If you cut down a tree, you have to replace it,” said Nancy Martin, a former teacher at Jackson Creek Middle School. “You wouldn’t think they’d put a building right in the middle of a forest.”
Some features that will take up those six acres include an environmental learning area, a contemplative garden, a playground, a fitness area, an amphitheater and a three-fourths-mile trail.
MCPL Director Marilyn Wood said she spoke with the other board members after the meeting last week. She said Coleman’s comment about Batchelor Forest was the first time several of the board members had heard about the forest. She said she understands and believes that trees are a valuable asset and that the board wants to protect them.
MCCSC could not be reached for comment on the forest.
Wood said the board is still unsure exactly where things will be located on the property but that they want to protect as many trees as possible and replant ones that have to be taken down.
“We want to be as creative and protective as possible,” Wood said.
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