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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Riverfront Park, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, USA

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Riverfront Park, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, USA
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Registered: July 2007
City/Town/Province: Williamsport
Posts: 1
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Beneath the Snow

By: Dana

The snow melted away this spring of 2007—taking with it the days of bulky sweatshirts, hurried battles for the heater-seat on the school bus, and survival by Swiss Miss hot chocolate. I donned my shorts and flip-flops with the rest of my peers, feeling like a monarch butterfly emerging from the long isolation of its cocoon. Yet, when I found what lurked dormant, biding its time, beneath the snow’s façade, I felt like retreating back inside…

Since the day I uttered my first word, “birdie!”, I have always been known as the “nature girl”. I am the first to dart outside when I see the telltale tints of a striking sunset peaking passed the curtains. I am one of the few that does not flinch when a particularly large spider scuttles by on the wall. My friends always send me anxious glances before they are about to litter… Every person on earth has that one place or time where his or her world just seems to fall into place. For some, it is amid the consuming rush of adrenaline as they step under the spotlight of a football field. Others are enraptured by the wild, stinging gust that embraces their limbs as they fly across the snow on naught but a pair of skis. Yet, it is nature’s call that has always been strongest in my ears.

Prior to high school, my outdoor endeavors were limited solely to camping trips with friends and hikes with my family. However, upon entry into freshman year, I joined the school’s Eco-Act club and finally began to do something. Participating in this club has been one of my most rewarding high school experiences. Over the years, I have watched it grow from a meager six-member group to one of about twenty, and I have held positions as Historian and Vice President. I love the opportunities Eco-Act has given me to take my ideas and beliefs and transform them into actions. Yet, despite my continued involvement in the outdoors, the severity of what is happening to our world did not fully hit me until this spring.

The snow melted to reveal the remains of a battle zone. Litter lined the highways, and trash defaced our natural regions. I decided that, no matter how small the act, something had to be done. As May approached, I led a group of interested Eco-Act members and other school volunteers to clean up one of the areas I knew to be suffering the most in Williamsport, Pennsylvania…Riverfront Park. Riverfront Park is located on a small island along the Susquehanna River; it consists of a bike path, gardens, and several waterside benches facing west to welcome the setting sun.

My group spent hours along the riverbank of Riverfront Park, wading through the garbage, trailing our bursting, black trash bags like flags. I felt as if, over the winter, the secret parts of everyone’s lives—the parts that they wished to hide—had found their way to this riverbank, washing up in the tide of the Susquehanna. We found lighters, tires, parts of old ovens, Styrofoam, deflated “Happy Birthday” balloons, beer cans, the scattered remains of a Knex set, and so, so much more. Looking over Riverfront Park, I gained a new respect for the wildlife that had managed to persist and survive over the years. Despite the ruin, Riverfront Park has been the home of chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs, robins, and even migrating Canadian Geese. Flora also resides here…oaks, maples, cherry trees, birch trees, fern, and honeysuckle—just to name a few.

Under the pale light of the sinking sun, the trees branches still naked and brown, Riverfront Park truly did look like a battlefield. On one side fought humans, and on the other fought nature. This is a worldwide battle that has been in progress for centuries. We might not always see it, but it is always there—whether it is along the sidewalk when we drive down the street or in the sky when we flash by in an airliner… It was clear that here, at this park, humans had finally won. And looking out across the battlefield, I felt no joy at our victory.

Humans inhabit but a speck in the timeline of Earth. Yet, we claim the land as our own—shaping it, changing it, and selling it as if it were a parcel. In the short speck of time that we have been here, we have contributed to global warming, the disappearance of the rainforest—the world’s lungs, and even the extinction of entire species! What gives us the right to treat our planet as if it were just an object? Are we just here to suck it dry of its resources and then discard it like trash when we are done? I feel that, as humans, perhaps our purpose and responsibility is to improve the world in which we live. Humankind has seen many amazing advances and accomplishments over the centuries. We have learned to see the world, not as it is, but as what it can become. When we see sunlight, we do not just observe it as a way to light our day, but as a potential resource for powering cars and heating buildings. Should we not give back to our Earth as much as it has given to us?

My work at Riverfront Park was but a small step towards this goal. Yet, I know that reviving and improving our Earth will not happen overnight…it will not be easy. I am content, for now, with knowing that the world is a little bit better because of the work I did. It was the most rewarding feeling in the world to go home that evening in May with the knowledge that I had accomplished something worthwhile. Perhaps cleaning that one riverbank saved the life of one tree or one fish…or maybe even just gave one person the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the river beneath all of the trash. For me, that is a substantial reward for a few meager hours of work.

I think that the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative™ is an amazing program, offering individuals the inspiration to help the environment in their neighborhoods. Yet, there are so many ways that people can take these small steps forward while never even leaving their homes. Simply abstaining from littering can lead to huge improvements. Families should also realize that recycling is not limited to jars and milk containers; old clothes, furniture, and toys can be donated to charities or sold at garage sales, for instance. Also, water bottles can be refilled at the sink to be used over and over again… Nothing has the lifetime of just a single use.

The snow veiled the litter and trash that invades the world…representing the blinding mask of naivety that I, and several others, have been wearing. As the physical barrier of the snow melted away this spring, so did the one in my mind. My experience cleaning up Riverfront Park taught me that change must come soon. Yet, I also learned that the fight is not without hope. In the course of one evening, I…not a powerful leader or an accomplished researcher, but a single high school girl…made a difference; this new battle for nature is one that anyone can be a part of. With slow, steady steps forward I know that, one day, the snow will melt away to reveal an earth that is worth living in…one that is good for humans and wildlife alike.
Date: July 18, 2007 Views: 13873 File size: 63.8kb, 372.9kb : 1499 x 1122
Hours Volunteered: 32
Volunteers: 7
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 15 to 18
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 4
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): 30
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Registered: July 2007
City/Town/Province: Vancouver
Posts: 3
July 25, 2007 2:42pm

I congratulate you for your completed project.
Great effort and well done!!