Women naturalists are growing in Indianapolis, and are now taking larger roles in the beautification and urban planning of green spaces at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB). Recent restructuring has allowed budding new opportunities at KIB, a nonprofit organization with a mission to engage diverse communities, helping people and nature thrive. Many Indy residents have no doubt seen some of the popular green spaces created by the organization.
They also create new tree canopies alongside streets, pocket parks, and possibly your backyard, thanks to their annual native plant sale. The KIB leaders would love for you to join them in cultivating our community.
Kelly DeRolf, KIB green-space manager, has a background in wildlife biology from Purdue University and a vocation as a biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. She felt a need for more connection to the community.
“Academia and the state government were not a good fit for me,” she says. “It felt like we were gatekeepers of all this information and resources, but we weren’t connecting with the public.”
She started volunteering in 2017 with KIB’s tree planting committee. She felt more rooted in the community, and after hearing about an open position, she could not pass it up.
“I’ve always been really into the outdoors, growing up in rural Pennsylvania,” she says.
At the end of a long week digging in the dirt, you can find DeRolf relaxing in Daubenspeck Community Nature Park on the Northside. Her favorite project is Shelton Heights GreenSpace, an abandoned mobile home site transformed into a beautiful pocket park for community gathering.
Abbie Downes leads the Youth Tree Team, and has a background in outdoor recreation from Indiana University. Downes started on a team of five urban naturalists in April of 2020, and was promoted to Youth Tree Team coordinator in February.
“It was empowering to use a Bobcat, chainsaw, etcetera,” she says. “Challenge yourself and be open, consider why you can’t do something and confront that – that’s how you grow.”
She loves a quiet space to take in nature, particularly the Amy Weingartner Branigin Peninsula Preserve. Downes loves the process of the various habitat restoration projects undertaken by KIB.
“It’s hard work, but immediately satisfying,” she says.
Natalie Saylor is KIB’s native landscape coordinator. Having volunteered at KIB for more than a decade, Saylor is a seasoned veteran. When the pandemic began, the CARES Act provided an opportunity for a full-time position within KIB. As a jack of all trades, Saylor was perfect for the position.
From supporting the community forestry programs to working on green spaces and community cleanups, Saylor has been thrilled to lead whenever possible.
Her favorite project thus far happens to be right in her backyard at Garfield Park.
“We planted so many trees, and I had a great time with the crew,”Saylor says.
KIB does happy-hour weeding on the last Friday of every month from April through October, which Saylor says is a great way for volunteers to network. It starts at 4 p.m., and participants weed and clear brush. Leaders talk to the group about native plants, and afterwards everyone cools down with more conversation about conservation and local beverages.
You can also adopt a block, volunteer at tree plantings, and so much more. The local native plant sale starts in May with varietals like purple coneflowers, little bluestem and mountain mint.
You can request a tree planting in your neighborhood or sign up to volunteer through kibi.org.