By Mary Jo Harrod
The Division of Compliance Assistance
Some people see only unusable space in an old landfill, but this was not the case for the American Synthetic Rubber Company (ASRC), a division of Michelin North America, Inc.
Its vision involved a former landfill located across the street from this southwest Jefferson County, Kentucky manufacturing plant, on a 60-acre site that once served as a landfill for the area known as Rubbertown. Together with Waste Management, Inc., of North America and Canada, ASRC saw possibilities for the land.
The two companies created a partnership whose goal was to restore the former landfill area with native prairie grasses and provide a migratory pathway for larger animals. This vision led ASRC to a membership in KY EXCEL, which is Kentucky’s environmental leadership program, based in the Department for Environmental Protection.
Transforming the former landfill to a Campground Natural Area (CNA) that is home to four native habitats: wildflower, forest, prairie and wetlands is an ongoing project that ASRC believes is important for the company and for the environment.
“This project has put a face on ASRC instead of people looking at us as just a chemical company,” said Cindy Ems, ASRC’s environmental engineer.
The CNA project, which began in 2007, is guided by the volunteer efforts of ASRC employees. Two years after its launch, in 2009, ASRC received certification of the CNA as a natural area. It has been recertified every three years since. In addition to the flora, it has a peaceful walking path for ASRC employees..
The initial cleanup involved a herbicide application timed to remove nonnative species year after year. The herbicide was applied in a grid format so that wildlife could take refuge. One area would be treated one year, and the other area would be treated the following year. Plant species were chosen for their diversity and to benefit wildlife before a company was hired to plant the native species.
Japanese honeysuckle and white mulberry, among other nonnative and invasive species of plants were removed. This is an ongoing process. But the transformation from an open field of grass and weeds to prairie land has been dramatic.
High-quality prairies have 200–300 different kinds of wildflowers and grasses that are native to American prairies. Grassy pastures are not the same since they have been grazed for generations and ultimately, remove all but the inedible plants. Prairies are important because they require minimal maintenance, are long-lasting and do not need fertilizers or pesticides.
“There is a specific way of mowing the acreage to provide enough habitat and still establish prairie grasses,” said Ems. “There’s been a dramatic improvement in recent years to eliminate nonnative grasses, such as Johnson grass.”
“Wildflowers are abundant,” she continued. “ASRC hosts a volunteer wildflower planting almost annually. Typically, 30 to 35 employees volunteer to weed and mulch our wildflower areas, plant wildflowers, build brush piles, etc.”
Providing brush piles offers shelter for rabbits, turtles, toads, mice and foxes. Woodpeckers search for insects in decayed wood, while lizards, butterflies and dragonflies perch on the top branches. Quail use brush piles to look for food, such as ground beetles.
Besides establishing prairie grasses to provide wildlife habitats, ASRC wanted to assist pollinators. So, the CNA’s first European honeybee hives were installed on the site in 2010. The hives have been maintained since then, and more have been added as needed. Six additional bee hives are being purchased to help the pollinators recover from losses of a few years ago. Many employees have been recruited to help with the honeybees. As a result, one employee was inspired to purchase bees for his home.
“Someone may look at the area and think it’s a bunch of weeds, but it is a habitat for an animal, bug, bird or pollinator, in addition to the diverse number of plant species,” said Ems.
Now, as a Master EXCEL member, ASRC has also committed to community outreach and educational activities.
This wildlife habitat area has won awards, including the Resource Caretaker Award for Environmental Excellence in 2014, from the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection. The next goal is to apply for a certification as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation as part of the Wildlife Habitat Council.
The Campground Natural Area has been visited by University of Louisville professors, middle school students, bird club members, area residents and representatives from the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District. ASRC hosted the Rubbertown Community Advisory Council at the CNA and gave a presentation on honeybee activities.