While the formal history of CEP begins in 1990, its origin reaches back to the beginnings of the environmental movement in the mid-1960s. In 1965, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson became an early public champion of environmental concerns and various beautification efforts. In particular, her voice was essential in the passage of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which can be considered our country’s first nationwide beautification and “clean-up” effort. In addition, the First Lady oversaw the planting of tulips and daffodils throughout our nation’s capital (the fruits of which are still on display) and promoted this endeavor as an example of what could be undertaken in other communities. As the 60’s turned into the 70’s, nationwide environmental concerns were reflected in such things as a nationwide anti-littering campaign, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, and the founding of such groups as the Nature Conservancy.
As for the local Muncie and Delaware County community, concerns for the environment during this time were perhaps most apparent in the attention given to the degradation of the White River, sometimes called the “Orange River” due to the sewage and industrial waste that flowed into it. Concern for the environmental quality of the White River led to the creation of the Bureau of Water Quality within Muncie Sanitary District in 1972. The Bureau, founded by John Craddock, has been a nationwide leader in efforts to monitor and improve the quality of waterways. As for local beautification efforts, Ball State University began a campaign of tree plantings in the late 1970s that was part of a larger focus on improving campus aesthetics. At the same time, Muncie Delaware Clean and Beautiful (MDCB) established itself in 1977 as the first local group whose sole focus was on improving the attractiveness and natural beauty of our City. The necessity for such improvements was only heightened by the beginning of the decline of the downtown business district around this same time. By the time of the mid-80’s, city and community leaders felt there needed to be increased attention directed towards city-wide natural beautification and landscape improvements.
Sherman & Marjorie Zeigler were two community leaders who had long felt that increased attention needed to be given to endeavors dedicated to enhancing the natural beauty of our community. The Zeiglers had been one of the early supporters of BSU’s tree-planting efforts, helping to fund a campus tree nursery. In 1984, the Zeiglers decided to go a step further and established the Sherman & Marjorie Zeigler Foundation to help prioritize and fund community beautification efforts. Some of the Foundation’s early projects were the creation of Fireman’s Park at the NW corner of Jackson and Madison, major landscape improvements at the Carnegie Library on Jackson Street, and enhancing beautification along White River Boulevard. It was hoped that these and other projects might serve as catalysts and inspire others in the community to join in and recognize the importance of such efforts. It did not take long for this to occur. Significantly, Earl Williams, who at the time was Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County, along with Doug Bakken and Dave Sursa, met with Marjorie Zeigler in 1990 (Sherman had passed away in 1988) to discuss plans to form an organization whose mission would specifically focus on fostering beautification efforts and bringing together the resources of citizens, government, and industry to enhance and improve the natural beauty and Quality of Life of Muncie and Delaware County. Mr. Williams convinced the board of the Community Foundation to make a four-year commitment of $25,000 per year to fund projects to be undertaken by this organization, which was named Environmental Enhancement Projects (EEP) and which operated within the structure of the Community Foundation. The Sherman & Marjorie Zeigler Foundation agreed to provide operating funds for EEP, as well as project funds on an “as needed” basis. Shortly thereafter, a capital campaign was conducted to raise $100,000 for an endowment for beautification projects to be overseen by EEP. Eventually, and with the Community Foundation’s encouragement, in 2002 EEP evolved into CEP, a free-standing 501c3 nonprofit entity with its own officers, directors, mission and fund-raising activities.
The first large-scale project undertaken by CEP/EEP was the beautification of Tuhey Park in 1990, the results of which are still very much in evidence today. The beautification of Washington Park and various triangles and median strips throughout the city quickly followed, along with the installation of planters along Walnut Street and the creation of Riverbend Park. To date, perhaps the most significant (and extensive!) project undertaken by CEP has been the design, development, and construction of the nearly six-mile long White River Greenway trail and its four accompanying overlooks (all now overseen by Cardinal Greenways). While CEP has been intimately involved in over 60 beautification projects since its founding in 1990, and has also helped fund the Muncie’s Urban Forester program, it is important to recognize that CEP has not been operating in isolation. Many partnerships have been formed over the years with a variety of civic, governmental, educational, and business organizations without which many of CEP’s beautification efforts would have come to naught. Indeed, perhaps the most gratifying and successful aspect of CEP’s history has been the way in which its efforts have served as catalysts in the larger community for promoting natural beautification projects that have served to enhance the Quality of Life in Muncie and Delaware County.