UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In an effort to protect local water quality and increase biodiversity, Sarah Newman, a Penn State Extension Master Watershed Steward volunteer from Chester County, recently coordinated the donation and planting of about 350 trees at Pine Creek Park in West Pikeland Township.
Approximately 40 volunteers, comprised of community members and Master Watershed Stewards, participated in the day-and-a-half effort. Pine Creek feeds Pickering Creek, the waterway that runs through the township.
“As I live in the Pickering Creek watershed, I’ve noticed a lot of flooding and erosion,” Newman said. “I joined the Master Watershed Steward program to be able to help my community deal with those pressures. It has given me an outlet for my concerns about climate change and something tangible to do without needing a degree or many years of experience.”
The planting project was aimed at creating a riparian buffer — a vegetated area near a stream — to absorb groundwater and stormwater runoff before it saturates the creek bed. Riparian buffers can filter pollutants, prevent stream bank erosion, reduce flooding, provide habitat for wildlife, and create recreational opportunities such as birdwatching and fishing.
Newman said the program’s training provided valuable hands-on education in riparian buffer planting and live stake application. Utilizing connections from the program, Newman secured around 350 donated trees.
The Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, working with the Chester County Conservation District, donated about 300 trees as well as tree tubes and stakes. Administered by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the partnership aims to facilitate the planting of 10 million new trees in Pennsylvania by the end of 2025.
Pinelands Nursery in New Jersey donated about 30 trees, and the Green Valleys Watershed Association provided a few more.
Sometimes Newman approaches people or organizations who are unfamiliar with the Master Watershed Steward program. She said the Penn State name signifies knowledge and expertise. “When I say it’s a Penn State program, it brings the work I do to a higher level because they know I’m getting an education based on ground work of many years of science-tested techniques,” she said.
One donation came from J.J. Loudin, the general manager of a landscape supply business called Sweetwater 100. Loudin used to play sports at Pine Creek Park. “He decided to donate mulch and soil for our tree planting project because he had such a personal connection to the park,” Newman said.
As the planting occurred at a public park, Newman took the viewpoint of visitors into account: “It’s not just about increasing biodiversity or adding erosion control,” she said. “It’s also about considering the visitor. How would people use this? What benefits can I give them? What do different plant materials attract? Am I bringing in birds? Butterflies? It’s not simply rows of trees, but a whole user experience.”
According to Meagan Hopkins-Doerr, Master Watershed Steward coordinator for Penn State Extension in Delaware and Chester Counties, Newman embodies the goal of the program.
“She has taken everything she learned in our 40-plus hours of education and put it into practice, using resources and connections she made through the program,” Hopkins-Doerr said.
Another riparian buffer project is underway, as Newman leads an effort to plant around 75 trees and shrubs in November at Pine Creek Park.
She also is partnering with a Master Watershed Steward from Charlestown Township, Carol Armstrong, for a riparian buffer planting next spring at Montgomery School, located along Pickering Creek. “That space already has woodlands, but it’s quite degraded,” Newman said. “Our focus is to increase the biodiversity and allow for native bushes and trees to take over that space.”
Newman encouraged others to join the Master Watershed Steward program. “It’s absolutely worth your time,” she said. “You meet incredible people and have great experiences. You become part of an enormous community of people who are so passionate about what they do.”
The Penn State Master Watershed Steward program provides extensive training in watershed management to volunteers who, in return, educate the community about watershed stewardship based on university research and recommendations. The program was established to strengthen local capacity for management and protection of watersheds, streams and rivers by educating and empowering volunteers across the commonwealth.
Anyone interested in becoming a Master Watershed Steward can learn more about the program on the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/
–Alexandra McLaughlin, Penn State University