Watershed volunteers celebrate Abington Junior High School riparian buffer.
By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer
Humans and nature have a controversial relationship, but our involvement in the natural world can bring about restorative changes.
Since 2012, members of the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford (TTF) Watershed Partnership have been working with Abington Junior High School students to build a riparian buffer along the small creek that runs through the campus between the school and athletic fields. The work of over 200 volunteers culminated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony held after school on May 6 outside the now-blossoming streamside buffer, which hosts over 500 native trees, shrubs and wildflowers.
“Buffers protect the stream. They absorb water when in rains, they absorb pollution and the wider buffer that you can get, the better it is,” Julie Slavet, the watershed’s executive director, said.
The word “riparian” signifies something located along the banks of a natural waterway. So the buffer is an area of vegetation along the creek that promotes the overall health of the immediate ecosystem, but it has positive implications for both human and natural environments.
East Baeder Creek, where the buffer was built, runs downstream through Abington and meets up with other creeks in Cheltenham. From there, the waters eventually end up in the Delaware River, which supplies much of Philadelphia’s drinking water.
“Runoff from parking lots and driveways has salt in it, has oil in it. It pollutes the creek,” Slavet said. “The buffer helps make things healthier, and we planted it in two phases with funding from a program called Treevitalize.”
The grant from Treevitalize was made possible by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society through funds from the Environmental Protection Agency and Aqua Pennsylvania as well as an anonymous donor.
After all the planning and hard work that went into this project, many of those involved, including students from the school’s Green Thumbs club, gathered not only to receive recognition from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society, but also to enjoy the sunshine and bask in the wildlife that would not have otherwise been there.
Apart from its environmental benefits, students can receive an educational experience at the buffer.
“All of our projects are outdoor classrooms,” Slavet said. She pointed to a sign right in front of the buffer that lists what was planted at this location. “The idea is that people will go and do this in their own backyards.”
Nancy Minich, an Abington graduate and the landscape architect who designed the buffer, was also in attendance. She owns NAM Planning and Design LLC, based in Lahaska. She and her staff worked closely with TTF Watershed Partnership to bring the most positive outcome possible from the riparian buffer project.
“Before, the creek was mowed almost right down to the banks, and there were only two or three species of trees here, so we expanded the diversity of wildlife,” Minich said. “We want kids to go down, see what’s in the water and understand what this is about.”
Minich teaches on the subject of human behavior and the built environment at Philadelphia University, and emphasizes the importance of the connection between humans and nature. Nature affects brain chemistry, which affects mood and temperament, so it’s important that people get outside, she said.
And it’s true, at least among those present, who were taking in the sunshine and the streamside greenery.
“I want to recognize all the folks that helped this happen,” Slavet said to the small crowd. “A project like this really takes a lot of work.”