The Lilly ARBOR Project: Promoting Science-Based Environmental Education and Outreach within an Urban Riparian Setting

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Kara Salazar Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Center for Earth and Environmental Science
Author Profile

This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

The Lilly ARBOR Project is an urban riparian restoration project designed for use as an outdoor experiential research and education site that teaches and promotes geology teaching and environmental stewardship.
The education outreach programs are designed for K-12 teachers and students, undergraduate students, the campus and surrounding community, and environmental professionals. Activities involve participants in project research as well as topics related to watershed management, riparian restoration, and nonpoint source pollution.
GSA Poster (PowerPoint 13.7MB Oct31 03)

Learning Goals


Higher Order Thinking Skills:

  • Drawing conclusions from data
  • Connection between classroom theory and concepts and applied learning

Other Skills:

  • Scientific report writing
  • Planning research projects
  • Conducting field research
  • Environmental stewardship


Instructional Level:

K-12, undergraduate environmental science courses, undergraduate majors, graduate student (research-based), informal, general public

Skills Needed:

The project site is utilized as an applied teaching tool for geologic and environmental concepts. Group instruction is tailored to age/grade level and background knowledge.

Role of Activity in a Course:

The field station was created and is maintained by students in undergraduate courses throughout the Geology curriculum. Faculty utilized the site to demonstrate research equipment, have students conduct laboratories and collect data. The project site is also utilized as a service learning work day within undergraduate service learning courses. The work days consist of site maintenance and assisting with the twice-yearly tree monitoring. Students are introduced to the site and research objectives and are then paired with a faculty or staff group leader to measure the growth of trees and note overall health. Students will then write a short paper outlining the work day and the significance to course concepts.

K-12 teachers utilize the site to demonstrate classroom topics. Students are introduced to the site and environmental concepts. Hands on activities include bird surveys, vegetation surveys, and stream mapping, among other topics.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:

Water quality and level is monitored utilizing multi-parameter chemical probes. Soil geochemistry is conducted by students in the environmental geochemistry lab. The level of sophistication is variable and can be scaled to different audiences and user groups.

GPS and GIS technologies: Each of the 1400 trees planted within the restoration have been located via GPS and graphically displayed on GIS maps to monitor their growth and development. We also utilize this technology for native recruit surveys and invasive exotic species surveys. The maps are used as both a teaching and research tool.

Internet Access: All data collected is posted and maintained on the Lilly ARBOR Project web site. Students and teachers can access and download the data to draw conclusions and determine trends. A variety of science-related topics can be addressed with the data sets.

Logistical Challenges:

Logistical challenges include those associated with coordinating and facilitating large group instruction. Group activities should be sub-divided into smaller groups when appropriate to allow for increased participation levels. When working with younger children, a variety of related activities may be appropriate to maintain interest level. Outdoor safety factors should also be taken into consideration.

For smaller laboratory based projects, adequate pre-exercise experience with equipment is required and calibration challenges are routine.


Evaluation Goals:

Connection made between course concepts and applied learning at project site.

Evaluation Techniques:

Course evaluations.


Through collaboration with local, state, and federal government agencies, private businesses, and nonprofit organizations, the Indiana University~Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Center for Earth and Environmental Science (CEES) implemented an urban riparian restoration project along eight acres of the White River in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana during the fall of 1999 and spring of 2000. The one-mile stretch of riverbank, planted with approximately 1400 trees, is now evolving into a wildflower meadow and shrub/sapling habitat as the trees grow and other species gradually recolonize the area. The massive experiment will test the best way to restore riverbanks by comparing the three most common methods for planting trees to restore native forests. A minimum of five years of monitoring and assessment will provide valuable data on reforestation strategies. This long-term study is monitoring the growth and development of the White River floodplain and evaluating the effectiveness of the restoration methods. Floodplain function is being measured through water quality research. Research results are provided continually to natural resource managers to improve ongoing restoration efforts. Project info and data are available at the project website:

The educational impact of the Lilly ARBOR Project is far-reaching and exciting. It offers a much-needed outdoor classroom and study area. Undergraduate laboratory and field course routinely utilize the site for research and discovery-based experiences. Environmental education and outreach programs have been designed to reach K-12 teachers and students, the campus and surrounding community, and environmental professionals. The Lilly ARBOR project site provides an outdoor ecological field experience with a watershed, a riparian system, and wetlands as well as exposure to research techniques on topics such as population studies of flora and fauna and water quality analysis.

The interdisciplinary collaboration and use of the Lilly ARBOR project has permitted several hundred individuals each year to contribute to the research and maintenance of the site while educating them about the importance of maintaining biological diversity while participating in environmental stewardship.