Restoring Habitat in Densely-Populated Suburbs in the Northeast: A Demonstration Project

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Westervelt, Mary A

Researchers have documented the decrease in populations of native birds and other wildlife, as well as the fact that this decrease correlates with loss of natural habitat in the suburbs. Suburban sprawl has also led to increased stormwater runoff, which carries road and lawn chemicals into local streams and erodes stream banks. Suburban homeowners may be unaware of these problems or unsure of how they can remedy the situation. While model pollinator gardens and rain gardens exist, they are often in out-of-the way places such as nature centers, where the average person will not see them without special effort. Furthermore, the models often lack design appeal, appearing as a random collection of plants. In order to provide an accessible model of appealing landscaping using native plants, a multi-year project to re-landscape the gardens was begun at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Berwyn, Pennsylvania, in 2015. Church members embraced the plan to beautify the property while improving the ecosystem function of the church's gardens and reducing stormwater runoff. The project thus had the dual purpose of improving the property's ecosystem function and appearance, and of providing an example for the congregation and the local community to emulate. A key element of the project has been to get congregation members involved in the planning, funding, and actual installation of rain gardens, terraced beds, and pollinator gardens. Installation of the first rain garden provided an opportunity to also get the larger community involved: A local public garden (Jenkins Arboretum and Gardens) donated over 100 plants, and the project became the Eagle Scout project for a local Boy Scout, Connor Bryan. In the second year (2016), more plants were added and the gardens were expanded, successfully enlisting more active involvement from the congregation. The next step of the project is to create a brochure that could be shared with congregations, schools, and municipalities interested in pursuing a similar project.

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