"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Curb State Spending, Eliminate Some Roadside Mowing
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

With state government up to its eyeballs in budget misery and other fiscal concerns, I would suggest a way to kill  "two (proverbial) birds with one stone."  I know that sounds silly, but let me explain my idea. 

As I am sure you know, our Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for roadside maintenance of some 1,100 miles of roads, including the interstates. 

Via the grapevine, I have learned that the DOT, in one way or another, last year spent roughly $6.8 million mowing so-called weeds and grasses along these 1,100 miles of roads which, in reality, translate into roughly 22,000 miles if you are talking about both sides, and even more than that when medians are considered. 

My  pitch is this: Eliminating unnecessary mowing would help achieve two goals. First, it would help curb spending, a desirable thing in these tight fiscal times. Secondly, it would give resident--not to mention out-of-state--motorists a chance to see what Indiana really is. 

As I drive through other states, I see a great variety of plant and animal life along the roadsides. In Indiana, I am sad to say, I see signs like: 

"CAUTION Mowing Crews Ahead," and tractors with cycle bars cutting down the natural beauty of the state. 

Dating back to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and New York Thruway, the advent of interstate roadways set the stage for the onslaught of interstates coast-to-coast and border-to-border. 

In a swift society like ours, this is not all bad.  Fast travel can, at worst, be called a necessary evil, even though the interstate network has robbed us of millions of acres of valuable farmland and wildlife habitat. 

Actually, one could believe, this should be of no great concern to Hoosiers because we have almost reached our quota of interstates. Only the extension of I-69 from Indianapolis to Evansville is on the drawing boards now. 

Still, the point of this column lies in the fact that if mowing of roadsides and medians were curtailed, or replaced with voluntary--even DOT financed--development programs, we would get a better picture of what Indiana really is, while giving the budget folks some relief. 

In some states, I see happy folks harvesting such wild crops as blackberries, wild black raspberries, wild strawberries and many other forms of edible natural produce along the interstates. I also see beautiful displays of wild and cultivated flowers which obviously have been cultivated by someone, perhaps volunteers, at no expense to government.. 

A few years back I suggested (in a column) that we encourage the growth of wild berries along the medians and roadsides for three reasons. First, they would help eliminate roads closed by drifting snow. Secondly, they would create a median buffer between lanes, and third, they would offer harvest opportunity for some really great food. 

One legislator thought the column worth reading on the floor of the Indiana  House of Representatives, and there was some dialogue with the DOT people thereafter. But the mowing goes on, ad infinitum. Eventually it turned out to be one of those "great idea, let's forget it" deals. 

I think, if I were to lose control of my car and it was headed across a road median on a collision course with an 18-wheeler, I would druther tangle with a blackberry patch  Said blackberry patch would less abruptly stop most vehicles. 

To go back to yet another column--actually a series in the 1950s--and to bring to light another supposed foible in developing wildlife habitat along  busy highways, let me point out that there are those who do not think we should lure wild critters to the roadsides because we could be sealing their doom. 

That series of columns elicited a friendly rebuke from the national office of one of the country's leading wildlife conservation organizations (headquartered in Washington, D.C.). Still, biologists at the grass roots level did not think it a bad plan. 

There can be little room to doubt that if a mommy rabbit produces 10 or12 young in a roadside habitat in a summer, some of them will die on the road--but the majority of her broods will have a good place to live. 

Wildlife biologists point out that one of the problems quail are facing, in their efforts to recover from the blizzard years, is a lack of transit habitat. 

There are a lot of places today where habitat is good and quail numbers are on the upsurge. It is also generally understood that some of the quail in areas supporting good numbers of birds might seek less crowded living conditions. But they won't fly five miles to the nearest good habitat. Roadside habitat could give quail and other birds and animals much needed travel lanes. 

Unmown roadsides and medians would also be a good place to protect--or introduce--endangered native plants, even trees. For example, in recent years I have noticed that broom sedge (sage to most Hoosiers) is showing strong growth along some of the interstates although it is being decimated by housing projects, commercial building and other projects. 

I cringe at the thought of the road mowers moving in as spring turns to summer and the "tidy up" tendencies of government agencies emerge from their winter dormancy.

Small patches of broom sedge (sage) along the interstates are making a strong comeback of the plant as it is being crowded out by the developments of  large fields. This picture shows the plant in fall, the silky white  flowers remaining into winter. 


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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