Guest Blog by Katherine Haines
Katie is a student at Arcadia University and former TTF intern. We were so happy that she joined us for this planting, brought along friends, and wrote this thoughtful blog. Volunteers planted 500 perennials and 150 trees and shrubs!
On the first weekend of October, my friends and I headed to Cheltenham Township’s Charles D. Conklin Jr. Pool and Recreation Area to volunteer for the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTF). TTF, along with Cheltenham Township, is heading the restoration project for this area along the banks of Jenkintown Creek. The project is primarily funded by the Montgomery County Planning Commission and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The Jenkintown Creek flows first into Tookany Creek, then into Tacony-Frankford Creek, and then connects to the Delaware River, which is one of the two main sources of water for Philadelphia.
The restoration project began with the removal of the concrete piping, about 235 feet of it. The next step was rerouting the stream into a zig-zag pattern that goes with the natural lay of the land and allows the creek to flow freely, but also prevents erosion as it slows the flow of the stream against the banks. This design also allows for sediment to drop out of the water into the creek bed and reduce the pollution of the water. The added plants, rocks, and soil will also help filter out the pollution from rainwater and runoff.
Many different organizations have worked to improve the areas around the Jenkintown creek since 2014, and the restoration of this area was set to be completed this past spring, but because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, this weekend was one of the first volunteer weekends that TTF has been able to hold.
My friends and I, warmly dressed and wearing masks, arrived at 9:00 am on Saturday, October 3 prepared to plant all kinds of plants and trees.
This was the second volunteer day that TTF held, the first being the day before. Because of COVID-19, we had to sign up for specific times and shifts online prior to the day because there were only 12 volunteers allowed in each time slot, to adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Most of the people that showed up were already in their ‘family groups’, like my friends and I. I live with my roommate at an apartment and our third friend lives in Elkins Park with his family, but we all are staying inside doing our senior year of college remotely.
For us, the opportunity to get outside and active in a way that was socially distanced and good for our community, is what drew us to the event. We’re constantly looking for interesting things to do since most festivals are cancelled and there are no on-campus events this fall. As a prior intern for TTF, I’m included on their emails and newsletters so I was alerted about the event and suggested it to them as something fun and good to do.
Over the summer I worked for a landscaping company near my hometown in Central, PA so I was familiar with the planting techniques, tools, and plants, but my friends were a little hesitant as this was something they had never done before. When we arrived, TTF’s director Julie Slavet, met us and gave us some history of the creek and its importance to the area, then outlined what they had been doing to restore it.
Susan Harris, project manager for TTF, then directed us to where we would be planting for the day, showed us the box of cleaned gloves (that only we would use and then place in a box to be cleaned before given to someone else at another event) and gave us tools to use.
The three of us planted small flowering perennials that were already placed out in one of the areas surrounded by the redirected creek. We also planted flats of plugs of small ground cover plants and grasses that would keep the soil from eroding and hold in moisture. Other volunteers planted more perennials (ground covers and flowering), but also shrubs, large grasses, and trees.
My friends had never planted trees before, so about an hour into our hour and a half timeslot we moved down to the streambank to plant six large trees. As we were planting, my friends got to learn about the importance of ground cover, perennials, and introducing natural plants to wetland areas, which is what this area will eventually become. I’ve worked in landscaping for about three years, one of those with a company that specialized in natural plants, so it was fun for me to be back doing something with which I was familiar.
Planting a tree is always so satisfying; to dig the large holes with a sturdy shovel, to loosen the roots, and to set the tree down into good soil where it will grow strong roots. Each time we come back to the park we can see the trees that we planted, ‘our trees’, and feel proud of how large they’ve grown. Of course, the perennials are important too. The grasses will expand and fill out the whole area, the ground cover will spread until you can’t really see the grass, and the shrubs will make barriers to the creek bed to prevent trash from polluting it. Nothing really compares to the experience of planting a tree though, especially not your first really large tree.
While volunteering for our community gives back and is important in protecting our environment, the experience also helped to lighten our spirits. As seniors, we’ve been struggling with spending our last fall semester online, missing our friends and our campus traditions. But for an hour and a half we got to do something that makes the world better, something that we all need right now. It was a bright spot for us, but was also a way to connect with other people who were probably feeling similar ways, even if we were socially distant from each other. The best part is, years from now when we’ve found our ‘new normal’ our trees will still be there doing what they’ve always done, hopefully in a newly established wetland right here in Cheltenham.