Beetle devastates Wicker Park ash trees; hundreds to be cut
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent May 14, 2014 8:56PM
Wicker Memorial Park workers Daryl Simmons, of Hammond, and Omar Alicea, of Hammond, dig a hole for a new bald cypress tree near the fourth green at Wicker Memorial Park in Highland. The golf course lost about 600 ash trees to the emerald ash borer. | Joe Puchek~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 17, 2014 1:44PM
HIGHLAND — The emerald ash borer has infested at least 550 ash trees in one of Northwest Indiana’s oldest and most popular golf courses, and park administrators are fighting back.
The beetle, whose larvae feasts on ash trees, has caused substantial destruction at Wicker Park’s course, park Superintendent Brett Bierman said. Park workers were out Wednesday morning planting 8-foot trees and continuing to cut down diseased ones.
Workers have cut down 99 ash trees and have many more to go, Bierman said. It takes about seven years for a tree to be killed by the beetle.
“Most of the ash trees are showing signs of the ash borer. It starts at the top, when they start losing leaves,” he said. “Each year, they lose more and then the trees become a hazard because the branches become weak.”
Bierman has been working with Chesterton arborist Gina Darnell to plant different trees to replace the ash trees. The park will plant 70 trees this year and 70 next year at a total cost of $18,000. The park has received financial help through a $9,600 state matching grant.
“We’re planting all sorts of trees that are native to the region — oaks, tulip trees, cypresses and others,” Bierman said. “The (state) had $145,000 to issue in grants, but if we don’t get another next year, we’ll budget in trees ourselves.
“Wicker Park is known for its tree-lined holes, and now six of them that had massive trees — one that we counted was 85 years old — (have them) completely gone. It makes a big difference.”
The emerald ash borer arrived in the United States in the early 1990s in a shipping container full of wood products and made its way to Northwest Indiana in 2006. It stayed east, in Porter County, until 2011 when it was found in Merrillville. The infestation is worse closer to Lake Michigan.
Statewide, 84 counties are on quarantine for the ash borer, though in 15 of those the insect has yet to be found. The quarantine covers the insect itself, hardwood species firewood and any part of the ash tree, according to the website of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Correspondent Amy Lavalley contributed to this report.