EPA Brownfields Conference finds a model project at Awbury Arboretum

Bill Madeira didn’t want any presents for his 65th birthday.

Instead, he wanted his friends to attend Awbury Arboretum’s cleanup on Sunday.

“I hope Awbury makes new friends because of this day,” said Madeira, who is on Awbury’s board of directors. “It deserves to have more people who love it.”

A present for Awbury

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The event, which took place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., kicked off the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Brownfields Conference that is also sponsored by International City/County Management Association. The purpose of the conference is to bring brownfields back to beneficial use as well as to make sure urban environments are as green as possible, said Ron Borsellino, director of hazardous site cleanup division for EPA’s region 3, which covers Philadelphia.

About 100 volunteers worked on eight sites throughout the arboretum cleaning trash that had blown across the historic grounds and thinning invasive plants that damage the ecology of the green space.

Karen Anderson, executive director at Awbury, said the cleanup was possible because many groups, such as Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Inc. and Weavers Way Co-op, which are both rooted at Awbury, were willing to direct groups.

Chew Avenue

Along Chew Avenue, volunteers worked on the gateway project, where invasive vines, weeds and overgrown plants were removed, which will make way for an eventual redesign of the entrance to make the arboretum more welcoming. Claudia Levy, a member of Awbury’s board, led the group.

Louise Thompson is a retired environmental lawyer who wanted time to garden, volunteer and spend time with her grandson. The gateway project allowed her to work on two of her biggest passions.

After 45 minutes of digging up plants, Thompson was happy that half of them were removed. Though it was going to look bare by the end of the day, she was already envisioning the pops of colors that would appear later in the spring, she said.

Also working on the entrance was Mark Sellers, a member of the arboretum’s board, who wrenched up weed trees and plants that were invasive to the environment, he said.

“This place is going to look different,” Sellers said. “People will have a better arboretum experience.”

Washington Lane

Across the street, volunteers worked on the Awbury Agricultural Village.

A group of about eight worked with Nicole Sugerman to plant 800 onions in the Weavers Way Farm as children helped the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to pot strawberries that would be given to food banks. And the Awbury Community Garden, which has 61 plots and 10 raised beds, was being cleaned for the growing season.

Tyre Franklin, 11, was working near the pond system.

He enjoyed finding the most efficient ways to collect trash, but he was also excited to have seen a hawk, he said. He was inspired by the cleanup.

“[People] should get the neighborhood together and start cleaning,” he said.

The nation

Along Washington Lane a group of EPA workers cleared invasive species from a watershed area. Matthy Stanislaws, who directs the brownfield, Superfund, underground storage cleanup and emergency response programs for the EPA was using a large weed wrench to pull up a thorny plant called devil’s walking stick. He said doing projects like this helps keeps everyone at the EPA focussed on the same kinds of overall goals – the event becomes a shared model for project design all over the country. Plus it sends the right message.

“Government is not this monolithic thing. It’s people who really care about communities,” he said. “We’ve got to walk the walk.”

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