Volunteers spend chilly Martin Luther King Day working in Settler's Cabin Park
January 23, 2014 12:00 AM
Erin Molloy was among the Pitt students helping clear vines and dead wood at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in the park.
Ken Pechtl, left, Jayne Lester and Emily Hess helping in the botanic garden in the park.
Volunteers Emmanuel Taylor, left, and Michelle King help put in new fencing.
Michelle King and Rachel Lee work on the new fencing.
By Bob Podurgiel
Emanuel Taylor, a graduate student in electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, said he spends a lot of his time in front of a computer. On Monday as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he found himself working outside in the cold, on land dusted with snow, at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in Settler's Cabin Park. Despite the winter weather, he was enjoying his work.
Mr. Taylor was among 30 volunteers, many of them Pitt students, who made the trek to the 460-acre botanic garden under construction at Settler’s Cabin Park, which spans parts of Collier, Robinson, and North Fayette.
“For Martin Luther King Day, I was looking for a place to volunteer,” said Mr. Taylor, who also volunteers for urban farming projects in the city. “I like to do volunteer work outdoors. I enjoy any opportunity to work with like-minded people and lend a hand.”
Mr. Taylor was constructing a fence surrounding the apple orchard on the site of the original 85-acre McGill Family Farm, now part of the botanic garden.
The orchard, said Kitty Vagley, director of development for the botanic garden, was a key part of the farm, and is being restored with new fencing and trees. The trees will supplement ones planted in the 1880s and are similar to the varieties growing on the farm in the 1800s.
Apples were an important crop of the early farms in Western Pennsylvania, Ms. Vagley explained, and the legendary Johnny Appleseed, who distributed apple seeds to farmers throughout the Midwest, collected many of his seeds in Western Pennsylvania.
Garden planners also will restore a log cabin farmhouse near the orchard, and the fencing around the orchard is designed to keep some animals out, such as foxes and deer, and other animals in, such as chickens and sheep.
“Heritage sheep, like those who grazed on the original farm will be allowed to roam the orchard,” she said.
Smaller wooden rail fencing has been placed around each tree to prevent sheep from pushing against the new trees, she said.
Volunteers also were attaching wooden slats around the outside fencing to prevent foxes from attacking free-range chickens that will be in the orchard to eat the bugs and insects that could damage the trees.
“We want to make the farm as natural as possible,” she said.
Wilkinsburg resident Michelle King, another volunteer at work on the fencing, said she found out about the botanic garden through Pittsburgh Cares, a group that coordinates and publicizes volunteer opportunities.
“I volunteer every Martin Luther King Day, and checked with Pittsburgh Cares to see what opportunities were available,” she said.
Accompanying her was her 14-year-old daughter, Olivia Amos.
“Every year, we try to do something good to give back,” she said.
Olivia agreed with her mother and said she found volunteering is fun, too.
A chartered bus from the University of Pittsburgh brought 23 students to work on another project, clearing brush and debris from the future site of a Japanese garden in another section of the botanic garden.
The site surrounds a pond that is part of a system that cleans water flowing from an abandoned underground coal mine.
“A bed of crushed limestone filters the acidic water coming from the mine and improves the pH [measure of acidity]. The bed is flushed every two to three weeks of the aluminum oxide that builds up,” Ms. Vagley said.
“We are releasing clean, healthy water back into Pinkerton Run that flows into Chartiers Creek. We’ve even found tadpoles growing in the pond.”
Another benefit is that the water from the pond can used to water trees and other vegetation throughout the botanic garden.
Ben Zimmerman, a Pitt junior majoring in industrial engineering, was helping to remove invasive vines from the future site of the garden. He was making his second visit to the garden. In October, he had helped to plant new native trees.
“As part of Martin Luther King Day, I wanted to do community service and give back,” Mr. Zimmerman said, as he sniped away at vines snaking their way up a tree.
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