What’s an IT Guy Doing Out in Nature?

Phil Flannagan Removing Invasive Species from Central Park in summer 2019

Have time on your hands? Phil says to check out volunteer opportunities at the park!

Phil Flannagan spent most of his professional career in the IT industry. He retired in 2018 and is currently “at work” combining a lifelong love of the outdoors, a passion for volunteerism, and a new interest in helping the local ecosystem stay in balance. Maybe, he isn’t really retired at all.

“I grew up in southern Indiana on a farm raising cattle, hunting and playing sports. Now I try to stay active hiking, biking and playing golf and tennis,” shares Flannagan. “I think I’d rather be outdoors than just about anywhere else.”

Finding the Perfect Volunteer Fit

So, when he found an opportunity to combine his love of the outdoors and nature by volunteering with Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation (CCPR), Flannagan knew it was the perfect fit for him. “My wife and I have volunteered locally since the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel opened in 2011 and we enjoy giving back in our own community. When I saw CCPR’s call-out for volunteers to help plant trees on Arbor Day and to work on teams cleaning up the land running alongside the Monon Greenway, I knew this was something I was interested in and wanted to be a part of.”

Phil Flannagan at Invasive Species Removal Day at Central Park Volunteering with these nature-based and hands-on opportunities led Flannagan to further investigate the role invasive plants have on our natural habitats and the economic impact managing these preventative and eradication projects demand.

You might be asking yourself what an invasive species is and why it needs attention and management? An invasive species can be any kind of living organism that is not native to an ecosystem and causes harm. They can harm the environment, the economy or even human health. You can find many types of invasive plant species along the Monon Greenway, including a plant called bush honeysuckle. Bush honeysuckle shades the ground, deplete soil moisture and inhibits the growth of other native plants in its vicinity. Bush honeysuckle is growing along the Monon Greenway and many other areas of our parks. As CCPR organizes more volunteer teams to work on eradicating these and other invasive plant species across the park system, Flannagan says there may be a bigger picture to take a look at.

Where Volunteering and Education Meet

“Once I got interested in invasives, I wanted to learn more about how all this interacted,” says Flannagan. “In May, I finished CCPR’s eight-week Indiana Master Naturalist (IMN) course. You learn everything from soil to pollinators to water and all the different aspects of how these natural resources are interconnected.”

CCPR volunteer coordinator Joanna Woodruff says the IMN program was built to bring together natural resource specialists with adult learners to foster an understanding of Indiana’s plants, water, soil, and wildlife and provide education to volunteers who can then go out and promote this education and service in the community. “Phil has been a big contributor to our invasive-species eradication team, and he is working to be an ambassador of the message beyond the park system as well. That type of volunteer is just invaluable to CCPR.”

Phil Flannagan removing invasive species in Central ParkIf there is one thing Flannagan took away from both his volunteer efforts and the IMN program, it is that there is always a reason for a specific nature imbalance. Beyond that, you have to get out in front of the imbalance to determine what needs to be done, how best to do it, and then gather a team — volunteer and beyond — that can come together and communicate how best to get the job done.

“I’ve recently gotten involved with a working group called Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMA) that brings volunteers and various Hamilton County departments together to help combat invasive plants and raise awareness of the devastation being caused in our parks, neighborhoods, roadways, trails, and waterways,” says Flannagan. “It will take a collaborative effort to begin to tackle our invasive species problems going forward.”

Making an Impact is a Group Effort

Flannagan believes that by bringing together a collection of government entities and determined citizens, Hamilton County can become a leader in addressing this important issue.

“It’s a complicated and layered challenge,” Flannagan shares. “We have to educate the community, volunteers and home owners associations and move toward a preventative mindset. We need to go back to planting the right plants that can assist in maintaining a balance in our natural habitats and commit to returning those to what they need to be through a global vision.”

You may say  Flannagan is moving on to his second career. One that started with a bit of volunteerism and a tree planting. Both the tree and volunteer seem to be growing and thriving in their new habitats.


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