Central Indiana is the crossroads of America. Good soils for farming, mature forests and clear running rivers and streams were all natural assets that attracted pioneers and residents—and helped build a healthy economy.

But in recent years, Indiana has experienced declines in natural assets that may endanger the state’s economy and the quality of life for its residents. Consider how the state and region have fared in the following national metrics on environmental issues:

  • Forbes.com ranks Indiana 49th out of 50 states in its America’s Greenest States Report (Alesia, April 22, 2009).
  • Indiana has the highest amount of toxic discharges into water bodies according to the U.S. EPA (Giller, May 23, 2009).
  • Indiana ranks 16th for adult obesity—with 27.4 percent of adults being obese according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Bergoetz, July 2, 2009).
  • Indiana ranked 7th in the United States for its rapid loss of farmland according to the American Farmland Trust (AFT, 2002).

In spring 2008 central Indiana was hit with major flooding, totaling more than $88 million in damage to crops and infrastructure. The extent of flooding and speed of rising waters was a wake-up call on the health of the region’s rivers and streams and the financial costs of poor land-use decisions to landowners, public officials and residents. The Central Indiana Land Trust was interested in a regional conservation vision that would help government officials and the public understand the value of ecosystems for both the services they provide, such as floodwater storage, but also as part of securing a high quality of life for residents and visitors. With only three paid staff to cover 3.1 million acres of land in a region of 1.8 million people, the question of which lands to conserve, and devote limited staff time and dollars to, was an important concern of the land trust.


To reverse the decline in quality as well as quantity of natural assets, and improve the public perception of central Indiana as a desirable place to live and work, the Central Indiana Land Trust, with funding from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, invited The Conservation Fund to guide the public through the green infrastructure planning process.

Stakeholders representing all levels of government, nonprofit organizations, foundations and community leaders came together to guide this endeavor. The result of the public planning process was Greening the Crossroads, a regional, landscape-scale conservation network plan for the nine-county region.  This is a vision that has been crafted by the citizens of central Indiana and is a broad-based, collaborative effort.

After completing an assessment of the natural resources for the nine counties, The Conservation Fund designed a green infrastructure network to help the Central Indiana Land Trust identify critical lands for conservation, raise awareness among residents of the Indianapolis region of the value of natural lands, and identify implementation strategies that will ensure a legacy of conservation for future generations.


The Fund designed a green infrastructure network that highlights more than 300,000 acres of high-quality land in need of protection or continued environmental stewardship by private landowners.

Many of the natural corridors highlighted by the green infrastructure plan were also highlighted in the state’s recreational trails plan. By using ecological planning principles to highlight corridors, residents will get both outstanding recreational trails as well as provide opportunities for wildlife movement.

At the heart of the study area is Marion County and the city of Indianapolis. The region surrounding Indianapolis and Marion County is mostly rural. More than 68% of the study area is farmland, and another 13% is forestland. Preserving the contrast between the urban and rural landscapes is crucial to protecting a sense of place.

Indiana’s farmland uses an extensive drainage system to move water quickly off the land. The green infrastructure planning process raised the awareness of many stakeholders on the need to change the design of this drainage system and made the connection between this drainage practice and recent flooding. As farmland is the dominant land-use across the region, working with the farming community on management practices and highlighting the benefits of green infrastructure could make a large impact.


There are several goals and recommendations in the Greening the Crossroads plan, including the sound stewardship and restoration of Central Indiana’s rivers and streams. The use of the green infrastructure plan to help prioritize existing funding from government programs and foundations to support restoration efforts is a long-term goal of the plan.

While the Central Indiana Land Trust will use the plan to help with its land-protection programs, the coalition of stakeholders involved will make progress by working with private landowners to support the environmental stewardship of their land.  To help coordinate and inspire this relationship, the Central Indiana Land Trust has pledged to host an annual Leadership Forum on the implementation of the Greening the Crossroads report.


The habitat needs of wildlife were a significant factor in shaping the “core areas” of the green infrastructure network in central Indiana. A team from the Fund, the Land Trust, and local scientists studied the forests, wetlands and aquatic systems and examined the needs of key wildlife or “focal species” that use these landscapes. The habitat needs for these species were modeled and combined with the natural resource features of the three landscapes; together, they form the “core areas” of the green infrastructure network.


Greening the Crossroads Green Infrastructure Plan for Central Indiana


  • Goal 1: Conserve significant contiguous natural habitat
  • Goal 2: Identify and protect a network of stream and land corridors for wildlife movement and human enjoyment
  • Goal 3: Help state and local planning become more environmentally sensitive
  • Goal 4: Increase public awareness of the multiple benefits of a green infrastructure network
  • Goal 5: Increase public support for green infrastructure
  • Goal 6: Increase the coordination of green and gray infrastructure projects, particularly utility and road corridors, to maximize the benefits for nature and people.