The Westwood Garden Club-USI's Original Conservationists
It was a beautiful spring day when members of the Evansville community gathered on 25 acres of what was once pastureland to break ground for a much-needed public university. The region had suffered for the lack of a university south of Terre Haute for years, and there was a definite feeling of jubilation as the stakeholders turned over that first shovelful of dirt. Just across the road, members of the Westwood Garden Club watched as more of a precious commodity, undeveloped woods and undisturbed meadows, fell to progress.
The Garden Club had always played a huge part in community beautification and west side improvement. They hoped to create partnerships at the young University that would be beneficial to the woods surrounding the construction.
The found the young president of the University, David L. Rice and his wife, Betty to be enthusiastic and easily match their knowledge in nature. He granted the ladies of the Garden Club permission to create a plan for walkable trails and promptly forgot about their plans in the work of opening a new University.
Less than six months passed and the ladies came calling with a comprehensive plan for what they would call the 25 acre Bent Twig Trail system. Their plan included the need for a bridge, recommendations for additional native trees, a comprehensive list of the trees, shrubs and native plants on the property, and a job schedule and price list for their plan.
After carefully reviewing their plan with the director of the Physical Plant and a soil conservationist, they found the Garden Clubs proposal sound and they went ahead with the proposal.
Westwood Garden Club spent nearly 15 years making improvements in conservation and preservation at USI that can be seen on the trails and in the Outdoor Education Center. Today the trail system includes a stone lodge that was original to the property, a restored 1800s log house and Appalachian barn, a turn of the century brick school house and a natural amphitheater.
In the fall of 2009, the Director of USI' Service Learning Program and sociology professor Dr. Anne Stathem led several students through a refresh of the Bent Twig Trails. Used by the Children's Learning Center as an outdoor classroom, teachers often took their preschool students on the trails for hands-on learning opportunities. Students participating in the project laid gravel and mulch along the trails, cut back the natural growth encroaching on the walking paths and researched what native species could be planted along the paths. Azaleas were planted along the pathways leading to Reflection Lake. Working with Dr. Charles Price and Don Fleming, USI property supervisor, planted many fern along the main trail. A new trailhead was dedicated at a ribbon cutting Fall 2010. Attending the ribbon cutting were master naturalists and master gardeners of Evansville, original member of the Westwood Garden Club, Betty Rice, USI President Emeritus Dr. David L. Rice and members of the Service Learning team.
The trails, which are located on the northwest corner of campus as Bent Twig Lane curves around the back of campus had fresh mulch laid, new signage and many ferns and native species planted on the trails.
2023 USI Trails Committee
Thirteen years passed and the trails fell into neglect. Erosion wore away some of the trails and invasive species grew over once neat walking paths. Good samaritans and master naturalists took it upon themselves to do the work alone.
During Covid, the trails became a place of rest for many people worn down by pervasive negativity and isolation from wearing masks. Although time in nature was deemed restful, it was also a chore to walk through the trails over crowded by invasive shrubs. A group of University trail enthusiasts met in fall of 2023 to discuss the decline of the trails and lack of signage.
A plan was approved to trim the trails on a quarterly basis and new trail heads and directional signage began to be designed for all three of the major trail systems on campus: The Bent Twig Trails, the South Trails and the Disc Golf Trails. Phase two of the USI's new trail committee will see long term planning in developing, maintaining and promoting the trails through events, a social media presence, comprehensive web site and educational materials pertaining to the trails.
The USI Trail Committee also plans to maintain the trails by regrading and redirecting some of the steeper trails for the enjoyment of all.