Who Stole The Trees at the Johnson County Park?

Seedlings meant for fall panting disappear into thin air!

Published on: Oct 4, 2013

It's a "who-done-it" worthy of a Sherlock Holmes storyline, and Ric Schlosser, District Coordinator for the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District, can only scratch his head.

One year ago a group of students from the Johnson County Youth Conservation Board, the only one known to still operate in the U.S., planted tree seedlings on about three acres of land at the Johnson County Park. The park, located on what was once Camp Atterbury, an Army installation that took land from Johnson, Brown and Bartholomew Counties during the World War II era, is co-owned by the Johnson County SWCD and the county. The goal was to eventually fill a large part of the 20 acres with trees, so that people could see how a forested area could provide benefits to the environment.

Tree planting: Members of the Johnson County Youth Board, from left, Casey Campbell, Erin Bush and Chase Neville, plant trees at Johnson County Park last fall. They intended to plant more this year, but someone stole the seedlings!
Tree planting: Members of the Johnson County Youth Board, from left, Casey Campbell, Erin Bush and Chase Neville, plant trees at Johnson County Park last fall. They intended to plant more this year, but someone stole the seedlings!

Those trees are still in place. Schlosser says a large number of them survived, and he is maintaining weeds so the trees get a chance to get a good start.

Here's where the story gets strange. The plan was to plant another 100 seedlings this spring. The Youth Board members were lined up to help, but if you recall, spring was wet. The day planned for planting featured a mini-monsoon. So Schlosser chose to heel in the trees so they would survive until a day could be scheduled to plant in the fall instead.

One day this summer, Schlosser was at the park and decided to check on the trees. He couldn't believe his eyes. There wasn't a seedling there.

"They were all gone," he says. "There was no evidence that an animal dragged them off – someone dug them up and took them. I checked with park officials, and they assured me that they hadn't dug up the trees and planted them elsewhere."

Of all things to steal, why would someone steal seedling trees? That's what Schlosser would like to know!