Enriching community through open space: make a difference day


As part of National Make a Difference Day, more than 60 volunteers from local environmental groups, Northern Arizona University (NAU) and the City of Flagstaff came together to revitalize an important piece of open space many at NAU walk by everyday without noticing. Located across from Alpine Ridge apartments, the empty lot was overgrown, unkempt and full of illegally dumped garbage, and was in desperate need of cleaning. By the end of the revitalization project all of the invasive species will be gone, there will be a connector of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS) and will be the new location of the Southside Community Garden.

The lot was chosen because of its poor state of disrepair, its location, and the fact that it is designated as open space in the Flagstaff Regional Plan, a development and preservation guide for the city.

“It was selected one of the top three for restoration by Flagstaff; it will give the community needed open space which is the number one component of the Regional Plan,” says David Mckee with the City of Flagstaff storm water department.

Performing as both as a part of the Rio de Flag watershed and Sinclair Wash, the area was a smart choice to revitalize because much of the snow that falls there in winter ends up recharging one of Flagstaff’s aquifers. Due to the illegal dumping, much of that snow became contaminated before returning to the aquifer.

Throughthe day huge strides were made in restoring the lot to its former beauty. Large areas of illegal dumping were cleaned up, netting some interesting finds including animal skulls, exercise weights and old utensils. New soil was spread throughout the majority of the area, native grasses and flowers were planted and the invasive species were removed in order to bring in other native plants. These plants are important because they use water more sustainably and grow healthier ecosystems.

“Flagstaff is a nature-driven community,” says Anjel Craig, a graduate student at NAU. “Seeing an area with native species makes you feel better — it gives you the chance to see what this area could be like and what to do to others.”

Everyone at the clean up seemed generally happy to be there and were eager to help out in any way they could.

“We are really excited about this day because it brings together so many wonderful organizations, businesses and the City of Flagstaff to do something positive for our community. At the end of the day, you will see the difference, and that’s what this day is all about!” says Moran Henn, Friends of Flagstaff’s Future program director.

Many felt this was a good thing to do because it enriches the community, brings neighborhoods together and makes towns happier.

“Open space is a community amenity; it makes things more interesting,” says Jack Welch, president of the Friends of the Rio de Flag.

Various student groups came out to support the revitalization efforts including the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and the Kayettes.

“We came to make a difference in the community and this area is an important one to restore,” says Shauna Meisgeier, senior nursing major with the Kayettes. “[Cleaning the area] makes people respect the community and encourages them to get outside.”

Many hoped this project would help set the example for others, help to raise environmental awareness and make the community happier.

“Communities are healthier when you can not only have access to nature, but live in it as well,” says Cynthia Pardo with Friends of Flagstaff’s Future, one of the sponsors of the event.

By the end of the event, over six tons of garbage had been removed from the land. The restoration project will provide Southside Flagstaff with a more enriched community. NAU students can now walk by that plot of land next to Alpine Ridge apartments and say “Wow, that is a beautiful open space,” rather than not noticing it at all. A difference was surely made by all of the volunteers that worked hard to restore a natural, open space.


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October 2012
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