Neighbors get to know a natural asset in Germantown

An arboretum is a collection of trees, according to Wikipedia. Merriam-Webster’s web site claims it’s a place that cultivates “trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.”

Neither of these say a thing about community development, but that’s exactly what the Awbury Arboretum wants to tack onto its description.

Long committed to outreach through education, lately Awbury is showing off newly expanded efforts to open itself up. A recent meet and greet held at the historic 55 acre East Germantown grounds was one of the ways it has been responding to local community needs.

“I came up with the idea that since this is a part of our neighborhood, why do we have Awbury Neighbors but no Awbury?” said Stephen Coleman the assistant treasurer of the Awbury Neighbors Association.

Coleman was one of several community members who worked to recruit the 30 or so local residents to the event so they could get to know the nature preserve in their midst, and learn a little more about the association at the same time.

“We need to have this place as a staple,” said Curtis Wright, executive director of the Awbury Neighbors Association. “The goal is that this will be a spark.”

Awbury Neighbors has a long history in East Germantown, but it has not always had a close relationship with the arboretum.  Over the last two years a confluence of changes in membership and leadership on all sides have lead to closer ties – and to good results. Nearby Awbury Park (not a part of the arboretum, but next door to it) had long been a noise nightmare for local residents – literally. For years they complained to little effect about the loud cookouts and parties that raged on at the site over many a summer night.

With renewed effort from the neighbors association and the 14th police district, (under Captain Joel Dales who took command in the last year, as well), Wright said lately those concerns have been minimal at the most.

And with the active community outreach work from groups like the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, which is housed at the arboretum and shares in many aspects of its mission, becoming connected is now central to almost everything that goes on there, according Beth Miner, who heads up community engagement for the arboretum.

This work is especially important in difficult economic times, she said.

“When times are easy we’re not as focussed on sustainability as we should be.” she said.

So Miner is looking for a “heart bind,” she said, with a mutual give and take from local residents who might want to enjoy the grounds, and will also fight to keep them open as a neighborhood asset.

“We’re not a Morris, we’re not a Longwood, we’re free to the public 365 days a year,” she said.

For Wright, events like the meet and greet late last month are a crucial step on a longer path toward dissolving old habits of isolation in the community and bringing the whole neighborhood together.

“When you have fellowship and people are consistent and communicating, it breaks down barriers.” he said.

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