By Sue Dingwell
The power of passion and persistence brought to life a new wetland last Saturday at Campbell Elementary School, a Title One, alternative school bordering Long Branch Park in Arlington. Two and a half years in the planning and fund-raising stage, the garden was installed by an all-volunteer crew at an event they called “The Big Plant.” The sun seemed to shine with a special brilliance as proud students threw their energy into the myriad tasks needed to get plants correctly placed and tucked safely into the spots marked for them.
One of this fall’s Master Naturalist training class members, Pat Findiklogu, a teacher at Campbell for many years, formed a small committee three years ago to set the project in motion. She was on hand Saturday to help with the work despite the fact that she had retired from teaching last spring. The story of the permitting and permissions process was an epic indeed. There were many times when regulatory hurdles almost brought the project to a halt. I heard from a committee member, though, that every time they thought they were at a dead end, Pat would rally the troops: “They’re not going to stop us now!!”
The new space is large enough to be ecologically significant, especially considering its proximity to Long Branch. And of course, it is going to provide an outstanding outdoor learning lab for the students. Now that Pat is no longer on the staff, the garden and the curriculum related to it will be in great need of support from dedicated people who are most qualified to give it…are you catching the drift here??
A truly impressive number of groups worked together to see this project come to fruition. In addition to the students, faculty, staff, and the amazing parents and PTA at Campbell Elementary School, were: the Boy Scouts of America, Edu-Futura (Emerging Leaders, website coming soon), Early Space landscape desinger, Nancy Striniste, Tom Hunt of Green Earth Landscaping, Arlington County Regulatory Departments (numerous), Arlington Regional Master Naturalists, Virginia Native Plant Society, Virginia Department of Forestry,and last but by no means least, Earth Sangha. And those are just the ones I know about! A few folks received some payment, but everyone donated very generously, too.
Fundraising was tackled with gusto by the PTA; I heard accolades about one of their events when students and parents donned the traditional garb of their native countries and performed regional dances. One mother told me: “The value of not having a huge budget is learning to use what you have.” That was a stand-out moment for me.
The new wetland garden is a wonder-list of solutions
- solves landscaping problems of erosion, icy walkways, and wet sandboxes
- is ecologically significant, creating wetland habitat with native plants
- provides an outdoor learning laboratory for the students
- enhances the grounds with the peace, inspiration, and refreshment of natural beauty
When I arrived on Saturday, expecting to see a small wetland pond area, I was amazed to see instead a complete new nature-scape in progress. Invasives were coming off a hill, there were pools, ponds, spillways, bridges and benches. The plant communities included covered one whole side of the school with trees, shrubs, grasses, sedges and wildflowers. I had come as a Master Naturalist to help answer questions and guide planters, but I ended up on the hillside with a pick axe. After a massive invasive removal, hazelnut trees and mapleleaf viburnums were added to help hold the slope while the natives re-emerged.
There was an interesting debate mid-morning when the invasive pull team had freed up a dead tree on the hill. A certain portion of the group wanted to cut it down. A certain portion advocated for leaving it in place as a valuable asset to wildlife. In the end, the Forestry people on the scene made the wise decision to cut the top down, but leave about 6 feet in place.
The job of organizing how to get which plant where, (and there were several hundred of them), was taken on by a Campbell graduate now working to earn his Eagle Scout rank with the Boy Scouts. This young man had transported the plants from Earth Sangha and worked out a grand scheme, placing the plants in groups according to specific areas they were to inhabit. Each plant was additionally tagged with the initials of its name, and finally, corresponding labels were placed in each spot in the landscape. Time was of the essence, it was necessary for participants to be able to work as independently as possible.
By the end of the day, all but an odd handful of plants had new wetland homes. Planters were tired but happy. The ‘power of we’ had transformed a landscape into a thing of living beauty and usefulness for people, plants and wildlife. A true testament to benefit of people and their groups joining together for the good of all.
ARMN members now have a grand opportunity to help the new garden grow, and to help teach the students the importance of what they have created.
Photos: Sue Dingwell