Some Shaler Area High School students have been busy helping to preserve a 62-acre parcel of land known as the Reserve/Shaler Land Protection Project. The land is located in Reserve and Shaler Townships.
The project is a joint venture with the Allegheny Land Trust (ALT), a nonprofit dedicated to assisting local people in saving local land. The trust is raising money to purchase the Reserve/Shaler Land Protection Project, land that was previously a farm.
ALT is slated to close on the property in December, according to Lindsay Dill, marketing communications director, Allegheny Land Trust. The land cost is $650,500. “We received DCNR funding of $300,000 toward the project in September,” Dill explained. Fundraising efforts are ongoing with the community campaign goal of $50,000.
Shaler science teacher Abbey Nilson and her sustainability students have been working with ALT for over two years. “We partnered with them to help save Girty’s Woods, and now the Shaler/Reserve Land Protection Project,” Nilson said, adding that the land is vital to the community.
“It is so important to protect this land, as it is part of the Girty’s Run Watershed. Without these greenspaces, Millvale, our community, would be at a much higher risk of flooding,” she explained.
The students devote time during their classes to not only raise money, but to create awareness in the community about the greenspace. They’ve created a special mix of seeds which includes over 25 different species of native plants, including several types of milkweed. When people donate $15 or more toward the Reserve/Shaler Land Protection Project, they can receive a seed packet to plant or have a packet of seeds spread by the students in their name.
This special seed mix is important for pollinators such as monarch butterflies, recently labeled endangered, a topic Nilson has discussed with her students. “I taught my students about the monarch butterfly migration and how they are now endangered. We even raised a monarch butterfly from an egg in class, tagged it for scientific research, and released it,” she said. “We are excited to see if it makes it to Mexico.
“This project allows us to help with two causes at once; the monarch butterfly population as well as protecting greenspace,” she added.
As for their mission, the students feel that it’s important because it is “their land” and helps support the air and water quality in their own community as well as serving as a local wildlife habitat conservation area.
“I feel the project is helping our home community because we have experienced so much damage and loss from flooding,” said junior Hillary Quinn. “People have lost their homes due to so much damage and overall, it is unsafe and dangerous.”
Nilson and her students received exciting news at the October Shaler Area School District’s board of school directors’ meeting when Shaler Township not only recognized their hard work and dedication, but announced that the township will match the campaign dollar for dollar up to $5,000.
“Shaler Township matching the student fundraiser was such a pleasant surprise, and we were so honored to be invited to the school board meeting when it was announced,” said Nilson. “It was so wonderful for the students to see that their work matters, is recognized, valued, and is truly making a difference in the world.”
Initially, the students had a goal to raise $5,000, but with the match, they hope to raise $10,000.
Shaler sophomore Ella Nash echoed Nilson. “I feel like this project is a big step for our home community. I think in the long run it will prevent flooding and save wildlife,” she said. “And I think it is awesome that Shaler Township is matching our fundraising efforts. It shows that they recognize local fundraisers trying to help save the environment.”
The trust values the students’ work toward the purchase of the property as well. “We often talk about the benefits provided by permanent close-to-home green space for communities today and for generations to come,” Dill said. “The Shaler Area High School sustainability students are that generation to come, and they’re here at the forefront of the efforts to ensure this land remains forever green.”
Nilson’s students will continue raising money until the end of the year, and the public is invited to participate. But while the project may end in December, Nilson hopes that the learning continues.
“Students learn important career skills when they have a chance to solve real-world problems in their own community,” she said.
For more information about the students’ work, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/shalerareasustainability. For other project information and events, visit https://alleghenylandtrust.org/reserveshalerproject.
To make a donation to the students’ efforts and receive seeds, visit https://alleghenylandtrust.networkforgood.com/projects/167329-buy-seeds-to-protect-local-land.