New Life for a Former Eyesore
Whenever landscape architecture major Cory McCurdy, ’11, thinks about the John M. Craddock Wetland Nature Preserve, he recalls the hours working with his hands—building a boardwalk and trail in a former blighted industrial area.

Since 2003, more than 80 landscape architecture students have worked on the project, a 27-acre multiphase construction and wetland restoration along the White River in Muncie, Indiana. Once completed, the site will serve as a recreational trail loop offshoot to the Cardinal Greenway and as an interpretive learning center for K-12 schoolchildren.

“For landscape architecture students, this has been a great way to get hands-on experience in the real world,” McCurdy says. “We get out of the classrooms, go off campus, and get our hands dirty to make well designed and beautiful places. What better way to learn our craft than to design, engineer and build boardwalks, move and shape soil, and create spaces for the community to use and enjoy?

“It is a learning experience that will pay off when we graduate. We can show it off in our portfolios and go into the real world.”

Ball State is a partner in the Craddock Wetland Nature Preserve Team, which earned a 2010 National Earth Team Volunteer Group Award, one of three winners selected from 50 state entries. In Indiana, the Craddock Wetland partnership was tapped from among 1,245 projects to advance to the national competition. 

Immersive learning projects with students and faculty in landscape architecture and biology have contributed to the property’s transformation.

Reinvigorating the Neighborhood

The nature preserve is named after Craddock, a Ball State graduate who was the first director of the Bureau of Water Quality in Muncie in 1972 and led in the organization for 35 years. He has received numerous awards for his dedication, which has dramatically improved the water quality in Muncie. The cleanup of the White River has occasioned the return of mammals, birds, aquatic insects, and fresh water mussels. The fish population has more than doubled.

McCurdy, a native of Indiana, Pennsylvania, notes the Craddock Wetland is behind the abandoned Indiana Steel and Wire factory—in the midst of the community’s former industrial center.

“Brownfields are found in pretty much every community in the Midwest,” he says. “We have the opportunity to create a new green area that will reinvigorate the local neighborhood. Instead of looking at rusting buildings and abandoned equipment, local residents can enjoy nature in an urban setting. It will attract nesting birds back to the area as well.”

Long-Term Project

In 2003, the first student group developed the overall master plan for the wetlands, and designed and constructed the arrival plaza. In that year, the preserve was dedicated.

After several years of fundraising, students completed the second phase in 2009 by installing three sections of boardwalk. Phase 3 construction was finished in 2010 with the addition of a larger boardwalk near the north entrance and parking area. The fourth phase should be completed in 2011 with the construction of a new north entry plaza and a seating space overlooking the sedge meadow between two sections of boardwalk. In 2012, additional work will include an outdoor theater. 

Les Smith, a landscape architecture professor, believes the student team is playing a critical role in creating a new urban environment—one in which both people and nature happily coexist.

“These immersive learning projects from a perspective of a design program are irreplaceable in helping students appreciate not only the intricacies of the design and building of the project but also the contributions that these provide as neighborhood resources.”

Community Partnerships

Smith points out that this immersive learning experience has been made possible through partnerships with several organizations and professionals. Philip Tevis (BS ’88, BLA ’89) and his Muncie-based environmental restoration company, FlatLand Resources, have been instrumental in providing the students with cutting-edge design and construction technologies necessary in introducing structures and public users to sensitive wetland preserve sites.

Other essential partners include the Ball Brothers Foundation for its significant financial support, along with guidance and expertise provided by the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District, Red-Tail Conservancy, Muncie Sanitary District, Pheasants Forever, and the Cardinal Greenway. Also, G.K. Technologies donated the land to Muncie to establish the urban nature preserve, honoring Craddock’s many contributions to improving the environmental quality of Muncie and Delaware County.
More in Making an Impact
“We get out of the classrooms, go off campus, and get our hands dirty to make well designed and beautiful places.”

— Cory McCurdy, ’11