INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett breathed new life Wednesday into the fight over historic trees on Indianapolis' north side.
The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to turn the Crown Hill North Woods, which was purchased by the VA in 2016, into a burial site for veterans. Opponents like the Indiana Forest Alliance say trees are often planted to honor veterans, so tearing them down to build a burial site is the worst kind of irony.
"I feel a deep sense of responsibility to be responsive to the public's alarm about the future of the Woods," he said, in part. "As such, I am calling upon the Department of Veterans Affairs to halt their efforts to develop the site. My dream would be for these Woods to become part of the City's park system -- one that is an enduring monument to our fallen heroes and one that preserves sacred ground that has been undisturbed for hundreds of years."
Hogsett called on the VA to halt its plans to clear the woods and instead find an alternative.
"That's an irreplaceable assist to the community," Jeff Stant of the Indiana Forest Alliance said about Hogsett's statement.
Carleen Carter, who lives in the Crown Hill neighborhood, also wants the woods be preserved.
"It is not that much natural forest in the city and we are constantly fighting to keep green space, the woods, whatever we can in the community," she said.
The groups in favor of keeping the trees plan to reach out to local representatives, like U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (IN-07) and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. The VA has not responded to a request for comment.
Read Hogsett's full statement below:
“Crown Hill North Woods is Indianapolis' largest old growth forest. It is a place of tremendous diversity and uniqueness. So treasured are these Woods that the Indianapolis Parks Foundation sought to buy them in 2005 and the Indiana State Government tried again in 2007. An outpouring of opposition from the community prevented these Woods from being developed in 2008. Distinguished voices in the community, have called, of late, for the Crown Hill North Woods to be forever preserved.
At the same time, the mission of the Veterans Administration/National Cemetery Administration’s Urban Initiative project is to provide burial options for veterans in urban areas. Indianapolis was chosen as one of only five cities nationwide to be the site of a columbarium. The VA chose Crown Hill Cemetery, for this proposed columbarium.
The VA’s specific location within Crown Hill Cemetery is one of Indianapolis’ crown jewels -- the Crown Hill North Woods itself. There are plans by the VA to begin developing this site, which would irreversibly damage the integrity of the North Woods as an old growth forest ecosystem. There are, however, development-ready alternatives at Crown Hill itself and at other safe, secure, and dignified locations in Indianapolis.
It is true that I have been receiving an outpouring of calls and messages from people in Indianapolis who are alarmed about the danger facing the Crown Hill North Woods. They are clearly people representing a diversity of voices -- neighbors around the Woods, veterans, conservationists, and people who want to protect a natural heritage that could be forever lost. It is clear that these Woods provide a safe space for kids in the neighborhood, a land that sustains property values for nearby communities, and an area that absorbs air pollution, stormwater, & traffic noise.
I feel a deep sense of responsibility to be responsive to the public's alarm about the future of the Woods. As such, I am calling upon the Department of Veterans Affairs to halt their efforts to develop the site. My dream would be for these Woods to become part of the City's park system -- one that is an enduring monument to our fallen heroes and one that preserves sacred ground that has been undisturbed for hundreds of years.
Let us work together to achieve a lasting solution for our community that honors our veterans and preserves the irreplaceable Crown Hill North Woods as a crown jewel of our city's natural heritage. This seems fitting and worthy as we head into our 200th Anniversary as a City.”