Don Bickel spent his life outdoors, surrounded by the natural beauty of Indiana’s rustic forests and countrysides.
More than seven years after his death in 2013, Crawfordsville Main Street paid tribute to the local naturalist Friday with the dedication of a newly-planted tree at the Lane Place. It was one of two trees planted in an Arbor Day ceremony on the museum grounds.
The tree dedicated to Bickel, an American Hornbeam, has a hard, dense wood that pioneers used to make axe handles and wheel spokes for wagons, said Mark Davidson, owner of Davidson’s Greenhouse & Nursery, which procured the trees.
“This is a very fitting tree as a memorial for [Bickel],” said Davidson, a friend of Bickel’s.
Bickel was a longtime landscape supervisor for the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Crawfordsville district and wrote a long-running outdoors column for the Journal Review.
Inspired by the natural world on his family’s farm in Indiana’s first capital of Corydon — where parts of the state’s original constitution were drafted in the shade of an enormous elm tree — Bickel studied forestry at Purdue University and served with the Army.
He moved his family to wife Mary Alice’s hometown of Crawfordsville in 1969 to work for INDOT. Bickel was a founding member of the NICHES Land Trust and participated in numerous outdoor organizations. He grew wildflowers, went hunting, fishing and trapping, and made maple syrup.
“This was part of his mantra… and it never was work to him,” said oldest son Jeff Bickel, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Barb, alongside some of his father’s friends.
Davidson said Bickel mentored him on forestry and sustainability. The men served many years together with the conservation organization Pheasants Forever and shared an interest in outdoor activities.
“We had a hard time hunting game because we were constantly distracted by the forest and we would find ourselves looking up at a majestic oak instead of looking out for deer or rabbits or whatever we were pursuing,” Davidson said.
Main Street also planted a Valley Forge Elm in the museum’s arboretum, whose 80 trees grow in the heart of the Elston Grove neighborhood.
The trees provide more than $14,000 in economic, environmental and property benefits to the Montgomery County Historical Society, which maintains the Lane Place, said Sue Lucas, Main Street program manager.
“But who could measure the property benefits of this space being right next to downtown?” Lucas said.
The Valley Forge tree is highly resistant to the Dutch Elm disease that killed Indiana’s constitutional tree and millions of others across the nation.
The new additions will help diversify the arboretum, siad Jill Coates-Matthews, executive director of MCHS.
“It was one of Henry Lane’s dreams to have one of every native Indiana tree planted here on the property,” she said, “and so adding trees every few years really keeps that dream alive.”