Two of Lackawanna County’s environmental champions received Environmental Partnership Awards during the 33rd Annual Evening for Northeast Pennsylvania’s Environment for their work to make the area a healthier, greener place to live, work and play — all while inspiring others to do the same.
Director of Environmental Sustainability, Lackawanna County
Lackawanna County native Nicole Shapiro works as the county’s recycling coordinator and runs its Environmental Office. A major part of her work includes educating the public about how to recycle properly and assisting the 40 local municipalities with their own recycling programs. To that end, Shapiro organizes school visits, outreach initiatives and events for hard-to-recycle items, like tires and electronics. In the last two years, Shapiro has helped secure municipal electronic recycling grants to expand that effort.
“Our office is really big on action. It’s so satisfying to actually see the results right then and there that we’re cleaning up the county,” Shapiro said.
Her interest in this line of work began in high school during an environmental science class where she learned, among other things, the importance of sustainability. She now finds creative and fun ways to teach others. On Earth Day, Shapiro helps to organize a celebration featuring artists, music and environmentally friendly crafts for kids.
Her biggest project this year is a partnership with the Lackawanna County Conservation District to create a pollinator network. The project started with two gardens at the Lackawanna County Courthouse with 20 varieties of pollinator-friendly plants.
“We are hoping to have them at every county park in the next five years,” Shapiro said, adding that the next step will be to encourage residents and businesses to install them.
Winning an Environmental Partnership award motivates her to continue her work and strengthen her network of partners.
“We couldn’t do anything we do in our office without working with other people,” she said.
Volunteer Coordinator, Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority
John Morrow has been tasked with reversing centuries of environmental damage along approximately 40 miles of the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail corridor. It’s a job no single person could accomplish — fortunately, Morrow has help from a strong network comprising hundreds of people.
“Without our partnerships, our volunteers, we are nowhere,” Morrow said.
Most of the trail traverses abandoned mine lands that had been stripped of native vegetation decades ago. In their place, invasive species have grown that thrive in the poor conditions. Addressing the issue requires many arduous hours remediating the soil, removing invasives and putting in their place beneficial, native plants.
Assistance comes in the form of a motivated cadre of volunteers, from church groups to AmeriCorps workers. Local youth also help out through a summer teen work experience program.
Last year, Morrow nominated one young volunteer, Scranton Preparatory School student Mitchell Kirby, for his adeptness at organizing fellow students for planting and cleanup work. Kirby went on to win the 2022 Emerging Environmental Leader award.
“We need these young people to be engaged,” Morrow said. “That is how we can get this work done.”
By returning the area to its former natural beauty, Morrow believes more people will take an interest in protecting and enhancing it. A new paddling launch along Lackawanna River has been popular for canoes and kayakers, as well as dogs and kids.
“It gives you a greater connection to the river. And having a connection to that does make you a better steward of these lands and waters,” Morrow said.
He wants to use the recognition of his work as a platform to educate more people about the work they are doing and to express his gratitude to the people who have done such incredible work already.