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Monday, July 14, 2014

In Praise of Volunteers

Penns Meadow stormwater basin upland area, showing
trees amidst a sea of wild flowers (photo by author).
I’ve written previously about the naturalized stormwater basin (Penns Meadow) in my township that our Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) has adopted. The basin was a roughly 3.5-acre, shortly-mowed lawn until our county conservation district was awarded a grant in 2010 to retrofit it with three different types of stormwater best management practices featuring appropriate native vegetation. I had the opportunity to work with a small group of great volunteers at Penns Meadow last week to tackle a project, tree protection, that has been on the EAC’s to-do list for a couple of years.

First, let me clarify the role that our township EAC is supposed to have. The EAC was established by ordinance in 2009 by the Board of Commissioners at that time with the stated purpose to:
“advise local governmental agencies including, but not limited to: the Board of Commissioners, the Planning Commission, and the Parks and Recreation Board, on matters dealing with the protection, conservation, management, promotion, acquisition, and use of natural resources including air, land, water, and open space resources located within or affecting Lower Macungie Township.”

And these stated duties are the types of things we discuss at our monthly meetings. However, in a municipality of 22 square miles in which 31,000 residents are connected by over 100 miles of township roads, there are some things of interest to the EAC that don’t fall into standard municipal services categories. For example, following up on proper maintenance of the Penns Meadow stormwater basin area has never really been officially delegated to any particular department or staff members.

Although the EAC was never intended to be a hands-on group of volunteers, we make an effort to coordinate volunteer projects once or twice a year for the good of the township’s natural resources. Many of these projects have involved Penns Meadow, simply because the retrofit was a great project and we want to ensure that the original efforts are properly maintained. And such was last week’s project at Penns Meadow, with the volunteer labor supplied by a group of Master Watershed Stewards.

Tree tube installed on a tree to prevent

rodent damage to bark (photo by author).
Our local Master Watershed Stewards Program is run by the Penn State Extension service. It currently operates in only three of PA’s 67 counties, however. Similar watershed steward programs are run by state land grant colleges and universities in a few other states (Arizona, New York and Ohio). Several other states have Master Naturalist programs that are probably comparable. Our Pennsylvania Master Watershed Stewards complete 40 hours of training on a wide range of topics such as:  the hydrologic cycle, groundwater, water chemistry, water test interpretation, stream ecology, wetlands, forestry, dam removal, riparian buffers, soils, geology, invasive plants, stormwater and flooding. Following training, 50 hours of volunteer work are required to complete the program and earn the title. In successive years, 20 hours of volunteer work and 10 hours of continuing education are required. It’s only in its second year here, but it looks like it’s turning into a great program. And for an EAC chair who is often looking for volunteers to help with the Penns Meadow stormwater basin site, I’m happy to have some new volunteers to include so that I don’t burn out the boy scouts who usually help us with projects each year.

Mulch from township's yard waste composting
operation and tree with a protective tube in
background (photo by author).
Last week’s project with our Watershed Stewards involved installing tree protection tubes around the trunks of 140 trees and spreading some mulch at the base of those trees. The tree tubes will serve two purposes. First, they will improve the visibility of some of the smaller trees among tall, dead, herbaceous vegetation in the winter when the area gets its annual mowing. We’ve had mishaps with trees getting run over once before, because the EAC did not have the trees marked out clearly enough. The second, and more critical, need for the tree tubes is to prevent rabbits and other smaller rodents from eating the bark around the trunks over the winter. While helping to install some of the tubes last week, I noticed at least one tree that had a ring of bark gnawed off around the base of it. Bark damage that encircles a tree like that is called girdling. If that girdling continues all the way through the bark into the underlying cambium layer, a tree does not stand much chance of surviving. Hopefully, with the new tree tubes in place, the girdled tree I saw can recover, and girdling of other trees will be prevented.

Thanks to the Lower Macungie Public Works Department for delivering about 10 cubic yards of mulch to the site – enough for all 140 trees receiving tubes. The Watershed Stewards distributed the mulch to each of the trees with either wheel barrow or by lugging a couple of five gallon buckets. Thanks to Julie, Shannon, Jien and Crystal for your sweat equity in Penns Meadow.

It was a hot evening, but it was nice to see the wildflowers in bloom. They look a heck of a lot better than a scorched lawn at this time of year.
Purple cone flowers (foreground) and wild bergamot (background) in bloom (photo by author).

Black-eyed susan (yellow) and swamp milkweed (tall with purplish flowers) in bloom (photo by author).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you to our LMT EAC for going above and beyond!