By Keith Gushard
CAMBRIDGE TOWNSHIP —
Spending a soggy Wednesday planting trees didn’t deter students Ashley Myers and Elizabeth Miller from having both fun and a sense of accomplishment.
“You’re making French Creek sound and safe,” Myers, a senior at Maplewood High School, said as she was digging into the earth. “It’s great that you can come back and visit what you’ve done.”
Myers and Miller, a fellow Maplewood senior, were among about 40 high school students who took part Wednesday in a conservation plantings program through the Crawford Conservation District.
Students from Maplewood High School and Clymer (N.Y.) High School planted 930 trees and shrubs along the banks of two small streams in pastures at the Cambridge Township farm operated by John and Amy Bridger. The streams on the Bridger farm flow into French Creek, located to the south.
Myers and Miller have been involved with the planting project for the past four years.
“You learn a lot about buffers and riparian,” Miller said. “A lot of this is not learned in the classroom. The work is hands-on and you get to see what you’ve done grow.”
For more than a decade, the Crawford Conservation District has offered a grant program to help area farmers and land owners to create riparian zone buffers on their properties.
A riparian zone buffer consists of planting trees and shrubs along a waterway, providing benefits including wildlife habitat, flood control and bank stabilization.
Tree roots from the plantings will hold soil in place along the stream bank so erosion from the bank will not enter the waterway, said Mark Lewis, a state forester with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Lewis was helping with the plantings on Wednesday.
Jason Drake, a teacher at Maplewood High School who has been involved with the project for more than 10 years, said 14 different species including oak and silver maple trees were being planted at the Bridgers’ 190-acre farm.
“They’re all native plants that adapt to wet areas,” Drake said.
In pasture scenarios like the Bridgers, the plantings help keep cattle out of a very wet and muddy area on a farm. By doing this, livestock is less likely to come in contact with waterborne diseases, according to both Drake and Lewis.
John and Amy Bridger said they expect to see land improvement to the farm with the addition of hundreds of the hundreds of small trees and shrubs.
“We were working the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) on ways to improve our farm when we found out about the conservation planting program,” John Bridger said. “These trees and shrubs will keep the cows out of the streams. They’ll also help control our water run off and soil erosion.”
Each fall, Lewis said the Crawford Conservation District works with landowners like the Bridgers to preplan a project.
“We talk to landowners about what they want,” Lewis said. “Here, they wanted some trees and shrubs that didn’t grow too tall so they could see up into the field that goes up the hillside.”
Lewis said the program has exceeded all expectations during its existence, noting it has done more than 70 projects, planting more than 50,000 trees and shrubs since 2000.
The Bridgers said they appreciate the work done by the students Wednesday in helping with the plantings.
“We want to keep the water clean. They want to keep the water clean,” John Bridger said. “They’re a great group of kids.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nearly 250 students from Conneaut Area, Maplewood, Cochranton, Cambridge Springs and Titusville high schools and Conneaut Lake Middle School are participating in conservation tree planting projects around Crawford County this spring. When they finish, they will leave behind several thousand newly planted trees and shrubs along area waterways.
Some of the other upcoming plantings are:
-Today by Conneaut Area Senior High School students at Pymatuning State Park near Jamestown.
-Tuesday by Cambridge Springs Junior-Senior High School students along Irish Road near Edinboro.
-May 2 by Cochranton Junior-Senior High School students along Route 27, east of Meadville.
-May 7 by Conneaut Lake Middle School students at the Woodcock Township Building along Route 86.
-More information on this program or other specific projects: Call Brian Pilarcik, watershed specialist at the Crawford Conservation District at (814) 763-5269.