An abandoned dump, an alternative high school and a
hawk. Together they worked to create a Tree Preserve
and Botanical Garden along with a Learning Center for
the entire community.
The location in Egg Harbor Township, NJ is only about 14
acres surrounded by suburbia. At one time it was used
to dump yard waste and some building materials. Since
being closed about 30 years ago, nature has reclaimed
much of the area, trees have grown, natural wetlands
have flourished, and a meadow has established itself.
But the area languished, unappreciated and not used to
its full potential.
The Egg Harbor Township Environmental Commission asked
itself a simple question, what can we do with this area
that will preserve it and yet open it to the public to
enjoy? One way was to dedicate it as an Arboretum, a
place grown with trees. We envisioned a park built by
volunteers, rustic but with a few amenities such as a
basic learning center. With a water source, we would be
able to plant memorial trees to establish a true park
atmosphere. Residents, particularly the children, would
learn the value of trees, which plants are natural to
our area, get ideas for natural landscaping at their own
homes and have a quiet place to walk or meditate.
But we needed help to make our dream a reality and
reached out to the Eagle Academy, the township’s
alternative high school. We reasoned the students would
be able to learn valuable work skills such as
construction and horticulture along with life skills
including problem solving and perseverance. At the
same time, they would be building an important part of
their own community.
The young people were up to the task. They cleaned the
area, planted 200 seedlings and built a learning center
(just a simple shed) from the ground up. They worked
with no power tools and they kept to a deadline.
And with that we almost thought our job was done!
But then a handicapped friend asked, “Will I be able to
go to the Arboretum?” And a new task was given. The
students were undaunted. The next year they built an
overlook which is completely handicapped accessible. We
knew then there is no limit to what we can learn and
teach on this quiet 14 acres.
Now, with the help of the Dodge Grant, we are all
learning about and installing solar power. The students
will learn the technology of the future along with their
building skills. When this project is complete, they
will be able to teach the public the benefits of
renewable energy. They take pictures and put together
presentations explaining to other schools what we have
been doing and what we plan to do. It is only because
they took “ownership” of this project and this Arboretum
that they have been able to complete it as scheduled.
Hand carrying water to mix concrete requires true
The community has learned a valuable lesson too. Thanks
to positive newspaper articles about the project, they
learned not to prejudge children in an alternative
school setting. First time visitors are always
shocked, not only by what high school students have been
able to accomplish but by the simply beauty of the
The project is being done in phases and in the future,
we will rehabilitate the landscaping with native plants
and add a Blue Bird Trail (“Blue Birdie Hill”) and a
Monarch Butterfly Way Station (#1903).
The success of this project is due to the fact that it
utilizes partnerships on every level in the community,
public, private and non profit. People of all age
levels and skills are involved. It teaches young people
who might be considered “at risk” so many valuable
lessons both practical, such as construction,
landscaping and communication skills, plus more esoteric
lessons such as the importance of giving back to your
community, using alternative energy sources, preserving
nature and giving wildlife a helping hand.
Oh, and what did the hawk have to do with it? It was
just there. Each and every time you go to the
Arboretum, you can look up and there are the hawks
floating on the wind. And we are all reminded that this
is what we are doing this for. And we are inspired to