"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Woody Trees and Shrubs Offer Attractive Alternative to Costly State Highway Maintenance
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

Having edged a notch closer “octogenarianism” (if I may coin a word), I feel justified in dragging out a concept or two on living with snow that I have tub-thumped for many years.
First off, as I have pointed out for many years during old-fashioned winters that snowed and "blowed," the secret to whipping drifting snow, which often makes roads impassible, is no more complicated than not giving it a chance to drift, at least not over roads.
Many years ago when the I-Roads started lacing our state together, somebody came up with the idea of planting woody shrubs and small trees along rights-of-way for two or three reasons. Said plants would tend to beautify roadways, not to mention the fact that if said plants were of the right species (say autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata), they also would provide good cover for wild critters, and food for some of those benefactors--even man.
They did not know at the time that said autumn olive stands that had been placed in the right places would thwart windblown snow by stopping it before it got to the roads. Nor did they know that the same miniature olive-looking fruit could be turned into a tasty jelly, or even wine.
It would be next to impossible to track down the cost of planting those stands of autumn olive along the interstates and some of the other larger state roads, but you can bet it was a pretty penny. Moreover, autumn olive has proved itself to be worth every one of those pretty pennies. The Indiana Department of Transportation is concerned with some 11,000 miles of interstate, state and federal roads. It would be impossible to tell how many miles of county roads we may have.

It would be equally impossible to learn how many snow drifts those stands of autumn olive captured before they got close to the lines of traffic that zipped past before meltdown.

Alas, we seem to be losing our appreciation of autumn olive. I see places along the interstates where it is being cut and hauled away to expose barren (harvested) farm fields in winter. This sets the stage for howling winds to blow the snow from fields and create snow drifts where tires should be humming. Consider also the fact that blowing snow does not have to drift on the fast lanes to be a problem. A light cover of snow can cause terrible accidents at highway speeds.

Farmers and landowners should not be saddled with plants from the right-of-way when they cross the fence. But this growth can be trimmed and the plants can remain to do their jobs on the right-of-way.

Furthermore, when I travel the interstates in many Midwestern, Southern and Eastern states during the growing season, I see a great variety of plants--both woody and grasses and flowers. Late in the summer, when blackberries (and others of their kind) are maturing, I see cars safely parked (off the lanes of traffic) while their occupants harvest wild berries. Of course, berries of this kind are even tastier, juicer and sweeter than the fruit of autumn olive, and they can be turned into a myriad of food and drink.

Plantings of blackberries and black raspberries (even dewberries) would also help check another of the interstates’ nightmares--out of control vehicles crossing the median to head-on collisions with vehicles traveling the other way.

A collision with a blackberry patch would be a lot less damaging to an automobile than a head-on encounter with another car. Blackberry canes are pretty tough customers. If I were betting on whether an auto at 60 mph. could penetrate a 10-foot wide blackberry patch, I would put my quid on the latter.

If such encounters should save lives, the blackberry patches (BPs) would be well justified. If the BPs went untested, those pies, cobblers, jellies, jams and wine (hic!) would be so much gravy.

And non-residents traveling through Hoosierland would be more impressed by autumn olive and berry patches than those mowing machines that keep our roadsides looking like lush lawns while destroying the natural things for which our nickname stands.

Of course, county roads are just as susceptible to drifting snow as the big state, national and interstate roads. They don’t carry as much traffic, but keeping them open can be just as important.

Roads clogged with snow were not a great problem before the interstate craze hit because brush-infested fencerows trapped the snow. But all roads are in the same boat now.

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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