In the Garden:
April, 2013
Regional Report

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High School Park volunteers in Elkins Park, PA planted the long anticipated Backyard Natives Garden to help capture stormwater runoff and educate the community about the beauty and benefits of native plants. Photo by Gina Craigo

Promoting Environmental Awareness Through Community Action

Have a vandalized, burned-out school or other community eyesore to transform into good? For an inspiring model of phoenix-rising and community involvement, look to The Friends of High School Park in Elkins Park, PA.

Theirs is an evolving love story - a once-endeared high school abandoned in the wake of township growth. Starting with a neighborhood petition for the school property's adoption as "green space," it's become an 11.5 acre, award-winning, actively nurtured native plant park.

Today the Friends are in the midst of a ten-year restoration plan. They've installed a demonstration garden, butterfly garden with benches and paved pathways, seeded and defined a meadow area, planted hundreds of new trees, shrubs, and plants on the perimeter.

Reaching this point has taken about 17 years and the dedication of talented, hard working neighbors and volunteers, plus the support of Cheltenham Township. The nonprofit's board meets once monthly. The park's Restoration and Management Committee organizes four park work days each month. "Wear work clothes: long pants, long sleeves, sturdy shoes. Bring garden gloves and a refillable water bottle," reads the newsletter notice.

The project gathered substantial momentum when the Friends got funding to hire Gina Craigo as Operations Manager in 2006. The earth literally moved in 2009 when Diana K. Weiner came on as Restoration Manager.

Horticulturist and "passionate gardener" Diane Ehrich volunteered eight years ago when a neighbor invited her to a work party. Diane walks to High School Park from her home. She enjoys the birding programs, educating volunteers, getting her hands in the soil, and much more.

"It takes a long-term commitment to make sure these projects succeed," observes Diane, now an Advisory Board Member. "There's a special dedication among community members to care for, maintain, and manage this as an active ecosystem."

Here are some of her thoughts on promoting environmental awareness and encouraging community action:

  • Having energy spawns more energy.
  • Having a need, an idea inspires more people to get involved.
  • Word-of-mouth invites people to join in.
  • Working together builds bonds.
  • Planting together helps people understand the many benefits of native plants such as being low-maintenance and providing wildlife habitat.
  • Having many types of activities invites lots of people of all ages to participate, care for and enjoy the green space.

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