Gina Darnell | Photo provided
Updated: February 16, 2014 6:09AM
“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty unmarred.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
My buddy Jim Sweeney tipped me off about Gina Darnell. He said Darnell, a professional forester, would make a good interview. Sweeney added that Darnell is a Republican and a self-professed “tree hugger with a chainsaw.” I assured Sweeney that I was not alarmed being as “I’m a Democrat with an electric Mr. Twister fillet knife.”
Darnell, 59, lives in Chesterton with her husband, Craig, a captain with American Airlines. The Darnells have raised two adult sons and a pair of Gordon setters.
Darnell grew up in Beverly Shores and attended both Michigan City Elston and Michigan City Rogers high schools.
Our interview took place at the Third Coast Cafe in Chesterton.
“When I grew up in Beverly Shores there was the Red Lantern Inn,” she said. “It was one of the only places with a big, beautiful view of Lake Michigan. Beverly Shores has always been a very eclectic community.”
Your maiden name?
“Arbas, which is short for Arbaciaskas. I’m first generation Lithuanian and speak the language fluently. If ever you’ve seen the dunes of the Baltic coast, they look the same as the Beverly Shores area. That’s why a lot of Lithuanian immigrants settled there.”
“I graduated from Purdue in West Lafayette with a bachelor’s degree in forest management.”
The name of your company?
“Forest Resource Planning. Mostly, my niche is in urban forestry. I work with cities and towns on their tree-care programs. That involves measuring all the street trees in town, computerizing them and analyzing them to see what maintenance needs they have. I also help with the tree-planting programs.”
What about tree removal?
“Yes, we’re dealing with the emerald ash borer that’s killing all the ash trees. If you don’t treat the trees, they’re dead. Every ash tree in Porter and Lake counties has it. A Purdue entomologist came up and did a talk to the town of Munster. He said the emerald ash borer dwarfs the number of trees killed by Dutch elm disease. The beetle eats on the leaves of the ash tree, and that’s not too bad. But then it lays eggs and the eggs get under the bark and eat all winter.
“I have a job at Wicker Park where there are at least 500 ash trees and they are dying, if they aren’t dead already. We have to do something about that. It’s going to drastically affect the looks of the golf course. It’s going to be a massive die-back. And, unfortunately, it’s going to be a massive clear-cut. But, we’re getting funds to replant.”
A tree hugger with a chainsaw?
“I love trees. There are trees that are beautiful, but dangerous because they could fall on a house. They have to be cut down.
“I worked for a company for 10 years where I’d grow trees to make paper. We need paper. God forbid we run out of toilet paper. Back in 1976, I was actually the first female forester to work in the South. The tree huggers to the far left side, don’t want anything cut down: ‘Oh, the poor tree, it’s alive.’ At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who desecrate natural resources and ruin the environment.”
You’re a member of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association.
“Yes, I’m the Blueways stewardship chair. All of my friends in the group are Democrats. I like to remind them quite often that I’m a Republican and that a Republican can be an environmentalist — look at Teddy Roosevelt. Many of the individuals I know who are Republicans love nature, hunting and fishing and the parks. There’s just this bad corporate image.”
Gina, let’s switch gears a bit. Jasper County’s surveyor applied for a permit to improve drainage along the Kankakee River starting at U.S. Highway 231 and ending at Indiana State Road 49 — a distance of nearly 10 miles.
Work will consist of clearing of trees, logjams and brush from the south bank. The river side slope of the levee will be armored with limestone rip-rap to create a 1:1 slope on the bank. The Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Water has recently approved the permit. Your thoughts?
“There is an obligation by the drainage board to keep the river open. Part of that obligation is that there has to be an access road on the top of the levee where equipment could be brought in to remove any obstructions or repair a break in the levee.
“With that said, why do the entire levee by blatantly cutting everything all the way down? When I first saw the pictures of what was done on the Porter County side of the river, I thought, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t cut any of it; it’s terrible.’ But then, I thought about the drainage board’s responsibilities to the cities and towns that might get flooded. Just do it in the most environmentally friendly way.”
Supposedly, no trees suitable for Indiana bat roosting will be cut down, and if any archaeological artifacts or human remains are uncovered during construction, state law requires that the discovery must be reported to the DNR within two business days.
“We shall see.”
It seems the powers that be want to move the water out of there as fast as possible.
“Why? The thing you want to do is store the water upstream. You want to have places where the water can go rather than flushing everything downstream. There has been a lack of insight about the quickness of the water going downstream stream and the sand accumulating across the Illinois state line where the river remains in its natural state.”
“I’m not crazy about that idea. I believe re-vegetating the slopes is the better way to go. Normally, trees are the best thing you can have along a river — unless you have a levee. When a large tree gives way, its root ball can actually cause a levee break. It is good to have shrubs along the banks. The shrubbery actually slows the velocity of water.”
Gina Darnell will be speaking at the Porter County Expo Center on Jan. 25. Her topic will be planting trees for your urban site.