New Legacies for NEPA

So far in our series on the 2023 Northeast Environmental Partnership Awards, we’ve highlighted individuals who excelled in working with and inspiring others to protect northeast Pennsylvania’s environment. In this final installment, we hear from two organizations, Earth Conservancy of Luzerne County and Scranton Tomorrow, who have formed similar networks— including with some familiar faces from this year’s awards.

Earth Conservancy

Earth Conservancy received recognition for its Espy Run Stream Restoration project. A tributary of the Nanticoke Creek watershed, which eventually runs into the Susquehanna River, Espy Run had been devastated by decades of coal mining. Old aerial photos showed a barren landscape. The water disappeared under 200 acres of legacy mine lands, and when it did resurface, it had little to no flow.

Multiple reports from the early 2000s, including one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, warned of a “complete loss of the stream ecosystem” and significant contamination of water quality due to mining-related impairments.

In 2016, Earth Conservancy received funding to reconstruct Espy Run in a way that would redirect the waterway to a more natural state. Since then, crews have constructed more than 6,000 linear feet of new channel lined with an impermeable material so the water can once again flow into its tributary. The restoration project also has re-established a riparian buffer and added vegetation, including more than 1,500 trees.

Eventually, 1,400 acres of land from the site will be conveyed to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to become part of Pinchot State Forest.

Earth Conservancy President and CEO Terry Ostrowski said the project also had in mind the local economy.

“It was part of Earth Conservancy’s goal to reestablish this area not only for the ecological purposes, but part of the site now is utilized for commercial development,” Ostrowski said.

The area around Espy Run is an ideal location for industries like e-commerce and housing, he explained, given its industrial past, as opposed to developing, say, old-growth forests or farmland.

Earth Conservancy has been successful in its projects, Ostrowski said, but these successes rely on partnerships. Partners on the Espy Run project include fellow award winner John Levitsky, who recommended tree plantings, as well as DCNR and the Pennsylvania Departmnet of Environmental Protection, among others.

“It’s really a large collaborative effort,” Ostrowski said.

Owstrowski hopes that these kinds of projects raise awareness of what happened in the past and what groups like his are doing to address them.

Scranton Tomorrow

Scranton Tomorrow formed in 1992 when community stakeholders from Lackawanna County came together to address quality of life in the region. It’s in that same grassroots, cooperative spirit that the economic and community development organization operates more than 30 years later.

The 2023 Northeast Environmental Partnership Awards recognized Scranton Tomorrow’s conservation efforts, which rely on the support of more than 1,000 volunteers as well as local businesses. Toward these ends, the nonprofit developed the Downtown Safe, Clean & Green Ambassador Program. Projects include planting and maintaining seasonal flowers in downtown sidewalk planters and organizing urban landscape projects, educational outreach, and recycling events.

An annual cleanup week known as Scranton City Pride, a collective effort between Scranton Tomorrow, NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania and United Neighborhood Centers, enlists volunteers of all ages. This year, they collected more than 6,000 pounds of trash as part of the first annual Garbage Olympics.

Most recently, Scranton Tomorrow installed a Pocket Park in downtown Scranton. The small park provides public greenspace in a hub of magnificent historic structures, such as St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ritz Theater and Performing Arts Center, St. Peter’s Cathedral.

Business Development Director Liz Baldi said these environmental projects go hand in hand with a better quality of life for residents and more traffic for businesses.

“By improving the streetscapes, you’re improving safety and walkability, you’re promoting social activities to happen in downtown Scranton, which boosts the economy as a direct effect of having more people feeling safe and welcome,” Baldi said.

In order to accomplish its various goals, the nonprofit partners with Penn State Extension, the Scranton School District, Lackawanna County’s Environmental Sustainability Office, and many others. Fellow award winners John Morrow and Nicole Shapiro even serve on the Safe, Clean and Green Committee.

“Scranton Tomorrow always believes that partnerships are the most valuable asset,” said President and CEO Leslie Collins.

The nonprofit continues to attract and inspire a diverse community of stewards.

“We all work together,” said Steve Ward, one of Scranton Tomorrow’s founders and leader of its Safe, Clean & Green Ambassador Team. “This is everybody’s community.”