AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS "Sometimes I come here to find peace and serenity," said Amber Bageris, an environmental intern with Lafarge. At Lafarge's Cementon cement manufacturing facility, a 1.62 acre abandoned limestone quarry is now a wetland.
Cementon, the birthplace of Pennsylvania's cement industry, became so because of its abundance of limestone deposits. For more than a century, over half a dozen companies have quarried this resource and helped to build projects as grand as the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal.
At Lafarge's Cementon cement manufacturing facility, a 1.62 acre abandoned limestone quarry is now a wetland. The near-vertical walls that form half a vertical cylinder encompassing the former quarry, have been converted into a micro ecosystem teeming with plants, insects and a variety of bird species.
"Lafarge wants the public to see how they turned a former quarry into a wetlands by planting native species and filling it with water. It can breed dragonflies and attract animals like turtles," said Lisa Dally, a naturalist at the Wildlands Conservancy. The Conservancy has been working with Lafarge to develop the wetland and to work with groups to teach them about the benefits of conserving wetlands.
"Wetlands are being lost," Dally said. "Only 5 percent of land in the 48 states remain as wetlands as compared to a century ago where wetlands was upward of 35 percent of the land. Many endangered species like American alligators and whooping cranes need wetlands to survive."
"Wetlands are a natural filtration system," noted Amber Bageris, an environmental intern with Lafarge. "With its algae and moss, the wetlands help filter out dust, and since the facility produces cement, a naturally dusty product, the wetlands help clean the air.
"After it was no longer used for business purposes, we were required to reclaim the land and get it in condition as a habitat," she continued. "We were required to go above and beyond. One way we did this was to open it up to the public.
"We were trying to think outside the box, as far as getting the community involved. So, we came up with the idea of offering public tours of our wetland project," Bageris added.
"Not many of our plant employees knew why we were doing this project. It seemed that we were going through all this monitoring and spending all this money on the wetland. People want to know what is the importance of it. I've heard from some of the workers. They said that they really appreciate it and love it.
"We decided to educate our people, and from that education, we decided to educate the community as well. We want to give back to the community. There are so many people who know so much about wildlife and we wanted to bring them in," said Bageris.
Studies for the wetland project began in 2005. Bageris begin working on the project in 2010, took two years off, and returned this year to complete her internship.
The former 500-foot deep quarry closed for over 50 years. It had been mined for limestone, an essential ingredient in the production of cement. It has been filled in to create a level site, perhaps 100 feet below the tallest cliffs. A variety of vegetation has been planted around the site. A trail around the site provides both easy access to its features and areas to sit and contemplate nature. It is a pastoral retreat less than 100 yards from an operating cement plant.
"This is a perfect habitat for birds," Bageris said. "Ducks will come here in the spring. They do not want to have their babies in a place where the water moves swiftly. So, they see the wetlands as a place with enough water so they can teach the ducklings to swim and how to find food.
"Sometimes I come here to find peace and serenity," she said. "This area is available to all our employees. I think that Lafarge is trying to show that they care about the environment and care about the people as well."