Hendricks County Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jeremy Weber recently held an open house for the new arboretum at McCloud Nature Park. He also attended the groundbreaking ceremony over a year ago, but not as the park’s superintendent. Weber had driven two hours from Brookville, IN, where he was managing its popular lake resort to be there. Coincidently, he was offered the job in Hendricks County three weeks later and tasked with completing the project he traveled so far to see.
For Weber, it seems his path had led him in the right direction. He says completing projects like the arboretum is one of the great parts of his job.
“Some of these projects take years, and once we finish something, we can look back and see the service it provides for the community, and see that it is making a difference.”
Weber has been parks superintendent in Hendricks County for only a year now, but he brings with him a knowledge and love of the natural world dating back to his youth. As a youngster, he was active in boy scouts and also picked up canoeing and backpacking for recreation.
“My dad raised my brother and me to enjoy the outdoors,” he said. “For us, it was just a normal part of growing up. Family vacations usually involved trips to the Northern Wisconsin where we’d stay at a cabin.”
Now with a family of his own, it seems Weber is passing on the tradition. On its most recent vacation, he said they went sea kayaking in Belize and visited nearby Mayan ruins.
“We like to travel and expose our kids to it as much as we can so they can have nice broad horizons,” Weber said. “I have a kayak for every family member, but we probably go on hikes together the most.”
After Weber graduated high school, he studied forestry at Purdue University. He then worked for an extension with Montana State University before returning to Purdue to get his Master’s in Botany and Plant Pathology.
“That’s where I started to get the recreation background,” he said. “My first job out of college was as a tree crew leader for a landscaping company in Michigan City. So I was a climber and supervisor.”
Weber eventually became an ecological consultant focusing on prairie and wetland restoration and mitigation. He came onto Hendricks County Parks and Recreation as superintendent in June 2016.
Weber now oversees McCloud Nature Park in North Salem, Sodalis Nature Park in Plainfield, and the western portion of the Vandalia Trail. HCP&R also cooperates with other local parks departments and is currently involved 150 projects around the county.
Over the last five years, McCloud and Sodalis Nature Parks have experienced an upward trend in public interest. Weber said overall visitation is increasing by 16.3 percent per year, and program attendance with park naturalists show an increase of 27 percent per year.
Although both parks are well, parks, he says they both have their advantages and limitations, but that they are here for different reasons too.
“With McCloud, we are somewhat restricted by the DNR easement underneath it because of the way the land was purchased. We have a master plan for it and are able to carry it out, but it takes a little more navigation with the state to do it,” he said.
Sodalis is a little more restrictive as to what HCP&R and visitors can do with the land. The land is currently owned by Indianapolis International Airport and is also a habitat for an endangered species.
“It’s named for the Indiana Bat, Myotis sodalist, common in old-growth forests, and the purpose of the park is to protect the species,” Weber said. “Anything that could potentially affect that population is prohibited.”
The Indiana Bat population (and other bat species) has been decimated by White Nose Syndrome over the last 15 years. The population is also faced with habitat loss, which Weber said is the main issue. He said old-growth forests like the one protected by Sodalis provide a safe roosting site.
The City of Plainfield is in the process of purchasing the land from IIA, an acquisition that could expand the 210-acre park by 10 times its current size.
HCP&R also plans to open S.M. Gibbs Memorial Park in fall 2018.
“It will be closer to a population center than McCloud, and we will be able to do more with it than Sodalis,” Weber said.
A few of the features being designed include an archeological sandbox for kids and a mountain bike skills course. HC Parks is also looking into permeable pavement which is strong enough to support vehicles but porous enough to allow natural water drainage.