Apple Orchards Coming to Merrillville Parks

In what’s believed to be the first of its kind in the area, the Town of Merrillville will soon have access to hundreds of trees at two apple orchards in the community.
“I’m unaware of any municipalities that have a similar project,” said Matt Lake, Executive Director of Merrillville’s Stormwater Utility. “Orchards are typically not publicly owned.”
Nearly 300 dwarf apple trees will be planted this spring at Pruzin Park (5750 Tyler Place) and Rosenbalm Park (7406 W. 74th Ave.).
Each of the parks will have five different varieties of apple trees – Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and McIntosh.
“We selected the species based on their tolerance as well as a variety for desired use,” Lake said.
The Pruzin trees will be delivered in early May, and the Rosenbalm trees will be delivered at the end of May.
"Merrillville has always prided itself on its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for its residents,” Town Council President Rick Bella said. “This apple orchard initiative not only adds to the scenic beauty of our parks but also promotes sustainable practices and cultivates a deeper connection to nature within our community.”
The orchards will be open to the public to pick fruit from as soon as they begin producing fruit.
Lake said the trees will be as matured as they can get at the nursery, and the goal is for them to begin bearing fruit in their second or third growing season.
He said the dwarf apple trees were selected because they will reach about 8-10 feet tall, making it easier for people to harvest fruit from them and for overall maintenance. Regular apple trees can reach 18-30 feet tall.
Lake said people are accustomed to seeing trees in parks, but the apple orchard concept puts a whole different dynamic on urban forestry while providing healthy aspects of fresh fruit for residents.
Trees provide a variety of benefits such as protecting environmentally sensitive areas, improving air quality, reducing flood risks, and enhancing water quality. Planting apple trees offers another advantage by creating a food source.
“If this project is successful, we can replicate this in other areas of town where people can go to pick apples or other fruit and use them for kids’ lunches or preserve them by canning the fruit for other culinary uses,” Lake said.
He said fresh and healthy apples picked straight off the tree can last longer than store-bought apples when refrigerated.
“The difference is amazing,” he said.
The orchard project is possible because of a U.S. Forest Service Grant obtained by the Delta Institute in partnership with local communities, including the Town of Merrillville and Lake County Parks. The grant, which includes more than $300,000 in federal funding, is being used in a variety of ways to expand the forest canopy acreage in Northwest Indiana. To help accomplish its goal to plant thousands of trees in the Region, the Delta Institute created the Northwest Indiana Tree Planting Consortium.
Lake said the Delta Institute has arranged for a group to help plant the apple orchard trees in Merrillville and maintain them for a season.
“This is a learning experience for us,” Lake said. “This is considered a pilot study that has great potential.”
Taking care of fruit trees is different than maintaining typical parkway tree species, and it requires specific implementation of pruning and controls to optimize vitality. Lake anticipates other area municipalities will be watching Merrillville’s orchard closely.
“If it’s successful, I anticipate other communities will do something similar for their residents,” he said.