In celebration of Earth Day on April 22, NIPSCO announced the winners of this year’s Environmental Action grants, featuring three projects from northeast Indiana.

According to Dana Berkes, public affairs manager for NIPSCO, the utility company received 82 applications for this year’s grants from which they selected 15 projects, amounting to about $50,000 in total.

“The decision process was tough,” Berkes said in an email for Business Weekly. “We were pleased to support a variety of programs and projects including several pollinator habitat projects, youth environmental education and restoration projects.”

The three projects selected from northeast Indiana demonstrate the region’s commitment to environmental responsibility and the many forms it comes in.

In Fort Wayne, the Little River Wetlands project scored $4,000 for its work with Purdue Fort Wayne to study the “urban turtles” at Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve.

“We have changed our landscape so drastically and we need to take a minute and look at how we changed the landscape has affected wildlife,” Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and projects for Little River Wetlands, said. “We hope to help these turtles thrive and to study where they’re going, how they may cross the road so that we can maybe spread the word across communities to help turtles survive.”

The project intends to use the NIPSCO funds to purchase transmitters that can be attached to the turtles in order to track their movements. An estimated 30 turtles will hopefully be tagged in this process, with people from Little River Wetlands, PFW and the community at large taking turns keeping an eye on our hard-shelled cohabitants.

NIPSCO grant monies were also awarded to a collaborative project in Churubusco between the town and Smith-Green Community Schools to create a rain garden.

Madalyn Sade-Bartl, Churubusco’s clerk-treasurer, explained that the town has been doing a lot of street repaving and repairs, which has resulted in a large amount of storm water pooling in the parking lot at Churubusco Jr.-Sr. High School.

“Because flooding is already an issue, we decided a rain garden would help beautify back there, but also help with the stormwater,” Sade-Bartl said.

This rain garden will be filled with plants that can absorb a great deal of water and slow the flow of water flooding into the streets and residential yards. Students in the school’s Courtyard Club will be responsible for planting and maintaining the rain garden while also learning about how projects like this can make a difference.

“It’s getting involved with environmental awareness and having them learn about what kind of problems excess stormwater brings to people and what kind of plants can be sowed to help with those issues,” Sade-Bartl said. “It’s important for students to learn a sense of community and get involved and having ownership in it.”

Sade-Bartl advised that the town received $5,000 from NIPSCO to help with this estimated $20,000 project. She added that they intend to apply for additional grants to help cover the remaining $15,000.

Trine University and ACRES Land Trust are also teaming up on a project receiving $5,000 from NIPSCO. Through his conservation course, assistant biology professor Sam Drerup and his students are working to address the growth of invasive plants that are wreaking havoc on “oak savanna” habitat at Beechwood Nature Preserve in Fremont.

“It’s a unique habitat to this area and without pretty intense management, it moves from that oak savanna to a more closed-canopy habitat,” Drerup said. “The best we can do is manage the problem. This project helps keep this really unique environment in northeast Indiana protected from this invasive plant species.”

Like most of the projects supported by NIPSCO this year, this project includes not only a preservation component, but that ever-important “action,” factor. Students are expected to be involved with Beechwood’s conservation at a hands-on level, inspiring classmates and the rest of their community to take an active stand against environmental threats big or small.

“It allows them to see on the ground what conservation actually is,” Drerup said. “In a lot of my other classes, we talk about theories, but in this setup, what we’re trying to do is get boots on the ground to do the work.”

As the news about climate change and the state of the environment seem to get grimmer every day, people like Drerup and Yankowiak are encouraged to see companies paying it forward in the fight for environmental responsibility.

“This isn’t the first project I’ve been involved with that got money from a utility company,” Drerup said. “It’s good to recognize that it’s good to protect the areas we currently have and try to improve them and the fact that NISPCO is willing to help with that is great.”

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