A partnership of organizations with three dozen volunteers planted 520 trees as part of a project to transform a former hazardous waste site into a riparian meadow park which already has a boat launch and bike trail.
The site, along the Lehigh River, immediately south of the Rt. 873 bridge, was the location of one of the area's 19th century industries. In 1858, Robert Prince began processing the local iron oxide ore as a paint primer and established the Iron Ore Metallic Paint Company. The plant prospered and in 1879, was relocated to Bowmanstown.
In the mid 20th century, the Lehigh Gap site was operated as a paint mill by Pfizer. After the site was no longer required by Pfizer, the company cleaned up the site, removing the contaminated soil, and deeding the brownfield property to Lehigh County as a park.
With the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor passing by one side of the property and a boat launch installed on the Lehigh River side of the site, the land was ready for a reclamation.
"These trees were made possible by the members that support WDIY community public radio for the Lehigh Valley," said Rebecca Walz, development director for WDIY. "For each donation that we received during our spring membership drive, we are planting a tree as our way of saying 'thank you'.
"Instead of giving a tote bag or a mug, we found that our members want to give back to the community in some sort of a cause-related way, so we are using a cause-related thank you gift that helps the environment and the community. We had 520 contributions and we are planting 520 trees today. We also had support from our corporate partner PPL."
"We are planting trees to bring this site back and restore it to nature," said Robert Stiffler director of parks for Lehigh County. "We had a desire to continue to reclaim this site and we began talking with Tim Dugan who heads up the DCNR Forestry division in the area. Through him and the DCNR Tree Vitalize Program, it all came together and our site was chosen to be the recipients of the trees for this year.
"Pfizer who had ownership of the site for quite a number of years. It was a vacant site, fenced off because of the contamination in the soils. Pfizer partnered with Lehigh County on a boat launch project at the bridge, and out of that project Pfizer reclaimed the land, the contaminated soils were removed, and the boat launch was installed.
"Once the land was deemed safe for public access, it was turned over to Lehigh County and incorporated into our park system. It's a great improvement to the site to get trees growing here again."
Tim Dugan of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources led the planting project, the fourth program in their Tree Vitalize Program. Previous programs have taken place in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. Over 2,000 trees have been planted.
"We have a variety species of trees," said Dugan. "The species that we have include American Elm, tulip poplar, Sycamore, swamp white oak, black cherry, persimmon, redbud, and eastern white pine. We are trying to re-create a riparian buffer habitat, so we are planting trees along the river system of the Lehigh River hoping to improve wildlife habitat, stormwater filtration, and erosion prevention."
"Lehigh County prepared the site by mowing the field and pre-drilling 520 ten-inch deep holes," Dugan noted. "Today we have a host of volunteers: Cub Scouts, volunteers from the D&L Trail Tenders, Lehigh County staff, Bureau of Forestry staff, and volunteers from WDIY.
"We asked the volunteers to plant the trees randomly, like in a natural field. The trees are 3 to 4 years old, ranging from 2 to 4 feet tall."
"After they plant each tree, they fill in the hole and cover the tree with a protective tree tube," he continued. "It will act as a miniature greenhouse, will keep the rodents away from the base of the tree, and will help keep the deer from browsing the tops of the trees. The tube was covered with a net to keep birds from getting entrapped, and a post was placed alongside to stabilize the tube and keep it upright."
"Fall is a great time to plant. A lot of people think about planting trees only in the spring but when you look at it biologically, the Fall is a better time to plant because the weather patterns over the winter usually have better soil moisture.
"The trees and their root systems continue to grow even in the winter when they don't have leaves. We hope by doing fall plantings that the root systems will establish slowly over the winter and then next spring when the spring warmth and rain comes, the trees will take right off."