The driving force behing the creation of the Nature Park was money. Introduced turf grass is very expensive to maintain. The neighborhood was spending a significiant amount of funds each year just to mow and maintain the common areas. Faced with the decision of either raising dues or finding an alternative, the neighborhood removed half of their common area from the turf grass maintenance regime.
Immediate Cost Savings: As the Ridgefield neighborhood began their journey into converting their common area, they formed critical relationships with the Hamilton County Urban Conservation Association, Hamilton County Soil & Water Conservation District, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and Pheasants Forever. Due to the environmental benefits associated with native habitat, cost share funding was received from the Soil & Water Conservation District and the DNR. In other words, the neighborhood was paid to plant the habitat. Furthermore, Pheasants Forever owns a warm season grass no-till drill which was borrowed for planting and offers seed at drastically reduced prices. As a result, the initial cost to the neighborhood to plant the habitat was less than the annual maintenance cost to care for the turf grass. The project paid for itself in the first year!!
Long-Term Savings: The neighborhood has tracked costs and expenses since the creation of theNature Park. The creation of the native habitat did include maintenance expenses associated with the weed control plan during the establishment phase of the habitat. In addition, ongoing maintenance occurs in order to revitalize the habitat and to keep woody species at bay. However, the ongoing costs of the habitat is far less than the alternative costs of continuing to maintain the original turf grass. The neighborhood has also spent money throughout the years in planting new species of wildflowers in the Nature Park. Even after the maintenance expenses and costs of adding new flowers, the neighborhood has saved $58,608 through year-end 2016!!!
While saving money is a great, the Nature Park has provided many other benefits, some might even consider these to be more important than the money.
Healthier Retention Ponds: Like all subdivisions, the Ridgefield neighborhood includes retention ponds to capture stormwater runoff. The Nature Park includes a one acre retention pond. The native plants along the shoreline and surrounding the pond have extensive root systems which filter chemicals and pollutants (unlike the mowed turf grass which has a very shallow root structure). As a result, the retention pond is much healthier. A study was conducted in 2015 to compare the overall health of the Nature Park pond versus a "standard" pond located elsewhere in the neighborhood. The results were eye opening: Nitrogen/Nitrates were 59% lower, Phosphates were 17% lower, Dissolved Oxygen was 49% higher, and Water Clarity (Secchi) was 57% better!!!
Less Algae Growth: Due to the reduced polluntants in the pond, algae growth on the Nature Park pond has greatly reduced. As a result, algae control is only completed on an as needed basis which oftentimes is only one time per year. This saves the neighborhood additional money!!
Eliminate Nuisance Geese: Prior to the conversion, the Nature Park pond was oftentimes covered in geese which beca: me a great nuisance. However, geese do not like ponds that have shoreline vegetation. As a result, geese have not visited the Nature Park pond since the conversion!!
Prevent Erosion: The deep root systems of the native plants that provide the environmental benefits have also eliminated erosion issues. The neighborhood pond was plagued by erosion prior to the conversion as the shallow root turf grass did not slow down the runoff of water down the steep banks of the pond nor hold the soil in place. Since the establishment of the Nature Park, erosion has been completely eliminated.
Attract Wildlife: A mowed turf grass monoculture provides little environmental benefits and no wildlife habitat. The native plants included in the Nature Park provide critical wildlife habitat. The wildflowers attract a wide array of pollinators including butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. In addition, the insects, seeds, and cover attract many song birds. As a result, the Nature Park as well as the neighborhood have experienced a significant increase in wildlife.