Groundwork Lawrence has been serving its community in Lawrence, MA for more than ten years, with a mission to bring about the sustained regeneration, improvement, and management of the physical environment in Lawrence by developing community-based partnerships that promote environmental and social wellbeing. The group is beginning to extend the scope of its work toward more direct ecological improvements and education in the city, and one of the ways they plan to carry this out is through a Celebrate Urban Birds event in the beginning of May, hoping to involve the entire community in a project at Manchester Street Park and the community garden.
Manchester Street Park is a rehabilitated brownfield (formerly industrial) site which was once a trash-to-energy incinerator and rail-yard, and it is located at the junction of the Spicket River Greenway and Manchester Lawrence Branch Rail Trail, making it a perfect site for environmental improvement.
Groundwork Lawrence’s goal is to provide a first-hand educational experience on the importance of native plants, food webs, and plant/pollinator interactions, so they planned to improve local bird and wildlife habitat in Manchester Street Park, incorporate local artists in the creation of a bird- and pollination-themed mural on the Park’s community garden shed, and educate the people of Lawrence on the basics of urban bird ecology.
One of the group leaders, Ben Padilla, explained to us recently that all these elements of the project are advancing quite well so far, writing, “Over the past few months we have done a number of urban birds related educational and outreach events throughout the city, culminating in a week of urban birds specific programming at our YMCA summer camp which ended with the older groups of kids doing our citizen science point count survey on the last day of the week.”
Ben continued, “The most diverse, and what I think was the most fun aspect of our Celebrate Urban Birds project were the educational components. We held a number of different events throughout Lawrence from urban birding hikes among the abandoned mill buildings and presentations at the public library, to a number of events with kids in classrooms, clubs, and camps. In July the 11-13 year olds at our YMCA Urban Adventures summer camp spent an entire week celebrating the urban birds of Lawrence. They learned how to use binoculars, how to identify birds, and even collected real scientific data on populations of urban birds at Manchester Street Park.”
Through all the activities, they removed aggressively invasive vegetation (non-native or noxious plant species such as tree-of-heaven, black locust and Asian bittersweet) from an area about 700 feet long and 15 feet wide and with the help of New Balance, the Groundwork Lawrence Green Team, and the Spicket River Crew, they planted it with roughly 1,800 native bird- and pollinator-friendly plant species (cone flowers, sunflowers, winterberry, and Virginia creeper), which can all provide food and habitat to local birds. Groundwork Lawrence received 1,600 native wildflower seedlings from the New England Wildflower Society, and volunteers from Pfizer Pharmaceutical planted another 200+ shrubs, trees, and wildflowers.
As part of the habitat improvements and the arts, and with the help of Lawrence Youth Build (an organization dedicated to revitalizing low-income communities through youth members) the group reconstructed the community garden shed with a green roof. The shed was painted by Alex Brian, cofounder and art director of the non-profit Elevated Thought Foundation, with a mural that displays the beauty of urban nature emerging an industrial city. Kids from Lawrence’s Boys and Girls Club were able to go out with Alex and got the chance to learn about some of the basics of mural composition and design; they even learned to write their names with spray cans!
During the educational components of the project, participants have been introduced to the life history and identification of the Celebrate Urban Birds focal species, and learned to view the urban environment as an ecosystem utilized by many species of birds, mammals, insects, and plants. They have applied what they have learned by engaging in the habitat improvement and citizen science data collection project at Manchester Street Park!
In closing, Ben told us that his vision “was not only to transform habitat for urban wildlife, or to beautify a park with an incredible mural, but most importantly to educate the people of Lawrence, especially its youth, on the rich diversity of birds that can be found in the city, and the importance of the little green spaces that support them.” And it sounds like all these goals were definitely met–thanks, Ben, and Groundwork Lawrence!