In the weeks leading up to the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council will feature each of this year’s five awardees, along with a local group receiving special recognition. The Connoquenessing Watershed Alliance, Crawford County Riparian Restoration Program, Green Building Alliance, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, and Edward Schroth will be honored as this year’s award recipients, while the Garden Club of Allegheny County will be presented with special recognition at the May 26 ceremony at Pittsburgh’s Westin Hotel and Convention Center. The Crawford County Riparian Restoration Program is featured in this week’s installment.
Crawford County Riparian Restoration Program
The Crawford County Riparian Restoration Program addressed the need for forested riparian plantings along 30 different streams that have been identified as impaired waterways. This includes nearly 20 miles of streams in the Ohio and the Lake Erie/Great Lakes river basins.
This program has also addressed the need for environmental education for students and members of the community. Participants are moved from environmental awareness to action, through education on the importance of riparian buffers and their impact on water quality. They plant the riparian buffers, taking action on an environmental issue in their own community and becoming effective environmental stewards.
These riparian stream planting projects were performed on properties that required additional measures to reduce erosion and sedimentation to local streams. They also served as a wildlife habitat enhancement and an environmental education opportunity, while natural snow fences addressed an environmental hazard.
A typical riparian buffer project includes identifying landowners with a need and desire to improve a riparian buffer on their properties. A plan is created and mapped out to determine how many trees, tree shelters, and species are needed. While this is happening, local teachers educate their students about the importance of riparian buffers and why riparian buffers are needed in the local watersheds.
On planting day, the students gather at the site to discuss the importance of riparian buffers, why each species has been selected for each site, and how to plant the seedlings. The landowner is also present to engage with the students, lend a hand to the project, and provide a connection to the community.
Over the past 16 years, it is estimated that over 75,000 trees and shrubs have been planted with the help of 4,500 students from 12 local middle and high schools completing more than 100 different conservation projects. Every high school in Crawford County has been involved in this project as well as over 550 private citizens and members of local organizations.
All told, more than 110 acres of stream-side buffers have been enhanced through this program, impacting the plants, animals, and citizens within the Ohio and Lake Erie watersheds and beyond.
But the impact of this program also extends to the connections that the students make with this local natural resource. Engaging students in a community effort, connecting to the environment in their own community, and serving as a pathway to employment are also measures of success. One student participant became the Erosion and Sedimentation Specialist in the local county conservation district and another student is now a local forester.
This program is improving water quality in Western Pennsylvania, one student at a time, and creating lifelong stewards and informed decision-makers of our natural resources.