Crown Hill North Woods – Last Visit?

An Old-Growth Urban Forest Cathedral at Risk

By MATT MARKWORTH   Nov. 23, 2016

While peering through sturdy pillars of oaks and hickories—the support beams for this urban forest cathedral—my eye landed upon the massive trunk of an ancient pre-settlement survivor. My view immediately lifted skyward while tracing the jagged historical record displayed before me, all set against the blue Indianapolis sky.

Each zig and each zag represents breakage and regrowth, and such a complex and thick-branched crown bears witness to the great age attainable by this classic Midwestern species, the imposing and dignified member of the oak family known as the bur oak.

Despite countless thunderstorms, wind storms, ice storms, droughts, and any number of other threats faced throughout the centuries, this icon of Indy has survived it all, but now faces its most serious threat.

Over a century ago Crown Hill Cemetery acquired the North Woods and in September 2015 sold 14.75 acres to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, encompassing the oldest of the trees including the majestic bur oak. The development plan reveals that columbaria will be constructed along with required infrastructure.

Providing this expanded service for veterans and their families is an important initiative and I, unfortunately, have firsthand knowledge of how important this service can be when dealing with the loss of a loved one. My brother Kevin Markworth, a Navy veteran, was laid to rest in a columbarium at Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg, FL last year.

The grounds at Bay Pines are meticulously manicured. The roads, parking area, sidewalks, shelter building, restroom building and landscaping there are all necessary features, however they would not be compatible with an old-growth forest. For the Crown Hill location, a nearby open area would be a more appropriate site.

One way to quantify the size of a tree is to take a circumference measurement at the standard height of 4.5 feet above the ground. The circumferences of the trees in the North Woods are consistent with forest-grown old-growth circumferences at this latitude, with bur oaks up to 14.6’, white oaks up to 13.8’, American beeches up to 11.1’ (beautiful tree!), and many large northern red oaks, chinkapin oaks, eastern cottonwoods, and multiple species of hickories among more than 30 species of trees at the site.

Many questions come to mind for the development plan including:
– Is there a plan to save the largest bur oak, the largest white oak and the largest American beech?
– Will their entire root zones be roped off so that heavy machinery doesn’t compact the soil and damage the roots?
– What % of the existing trees will remain?
– Are trees being selected for removal based on their location in relation to roads and sidewalks, or based on ensuring species diversity and a healthy forest ecosystem long-term?

I hope these are questions that never need to be answered.

In breaking news yesterday, it was learned that a local charitable trust has offered to purchase the parcel from the VA. Please take a moment to read and sign this petition in an effort to urge the VA to accept the offer.

Click here for additional information.

Forest Scene:


Bur Oak:


White Oak:


American Beech: