Restoring Awbury Arboretum — and its Educational Programs — One Tree at at Time

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Awbury Arboretum welcomed visitors to its historic Francis Cope house for Arbor Day after nearly 100 volunteer arborists helped trim trees and clean up damage caused by Superstorm Sandy last fall.

Awbury Arboretum welcomed visitors to its historic Francis Cope house for Arbor Day after nearly 100 volunteer arborists helped trim trees and clean up damage caused by Superstorm Sandy last fall.

When Superstorm Sandy made landfall last October, the Jersey shore wasn’t the only place to suffer heavy damage. So did Awbury Arboretum, a lush, 55-acre preserve set in the midst of row homes and urban blight in Philadelphia’s hard-scrabble East Germantown section.

“Sandy took that 170-year-old beech tree and knocked one half of it over and we had to take the rest of it down,” said Steve Pascavitch, Awbury’s head arborist, as he pointed to the downed tree.

Last week, however, nearly 100 volunteer arborists arrived at Awbury to begin a day-long clean-up that included trimming, pruning, cutting down and sometimes planting trees. It was all part of the annual service day sponsored by the Penn Del International Society of Arboriculture.

“These are certified arborists,” explained Mark Sellers, chair of Awbury’s board. “Professionals, top-shelf tree guys from around the region, and they have chosen to come here and donate a day of their time, which if you had to pay for this, would be astonishingly expensive.”

The service day, held on April 24 in connection with Arbor Day, is an annual event held at a different location every year. It is dedicated to aiding lands in need of assistance with tree work.

Donning work boots and hard hats, the volunteer arborists stationed themselves at various sites at the arboretum, located near the corner of Chew Avenue and Washington Lane. They brought with them specialized equipment that the arboretum lacks.

A volunteer arborist from the Penn Del chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture navigates a tree at Awbury Arboretum.

A volunteer arborist from the Penn Del chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture navigates a tree at Awbury Arboretum.

For Awbury, the society’s decision to accept a request to host the day of service couldn’t have come at a better time. The arboretum was battered not just by Sandy but also by the 2008 financial crisis, which resulted in funding cuts to the arboretum’s environmental education programs for children. Less money also meant less maintenance, raising safety concerns.

“We’re in the process of starting to bring back a lot of our programs that were lost due to funding reasons in the 2007-2008 stock market crash,” Pascavitch explained during an impromptu talk to the volunteer workers. “We had environmental education programs for all different types of kids. A lot of the funding for that stopped, and when the funding for that stopped, basically a lot of the manager positions and a lot of the work positions went with them.”

Every year, the Penn Del chapter of the arboriculture society fields applications from numerous sites in the region that are in need of their services, but no site has been more dedicated to helping the cause every year than the people at the Awbury Arboretum.

“They’ve been very loyal in sending their crew out every year [to the event],” said Peter Fixler, chair of the society’s Arbor Day service. “It’s been 10 years since we’ve been here before. It seemed like a good idea to come back and help them out because they’ve helped the chapter out so much by showing up every year.”

The day of service is a long and expensive day for all who are involved. But these arborists possess a deep passion for what they do and genuinely care about the current and future state of the world’s ecosystem, so much so that money is put on the backburner. Instead, society members dedicate their sweat to helping the earth one tree at a time.

“We’re going to be doing probably $20,000-plus of work,” said Fixler. “Everyone is donating their time and effort and very expensive equipment to make this happen.”

Three days after the clean-up, the arboretum celebrated Arbor Day by hosting a garden fair on April 27.

The fresh spring air carried the musical notes of an accordion as guests strolled, picnicked and perused the grounds. Proceeds from a raffle went to My Place Germantown, a non- profit group that provides permanent housing for homeless men.

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Germantown resident Vivian Rowe demonstrated flower arranging during the Arbor Day garden fair.

During the day, Germantown resident Vivian Rowe, 40, led a flower-arrangement demonstration. She incorporated fruits into her design because Awbury is creating a fruit orchard as part of the Philadelphia Orchard Project, which aims to provide healthy food to local residents.

“Flowers and plants give more life to everything,” said Rowe. “Arbor Day marks the awareness of re-greening our world and its important to bring awareness to the day.”

(Adam Jacyszyn can be reached at adam_ jacyszyn@yahoo.com and Ashley Kuhn can be reached at kuhna2@student.laslle.edu. )