Haddonfield Memorial High School students cleaned fields, made blankets and assembled snack packs as part of three days of service in the name of Martin Luther King Jr.
Their projects varied: The cleanup was at Crows Woods Fields, the blankets were made with e women of Haddon Fortnightly, and the snack packs – as well as handmade cards – went to Ronald McDonald House in Camden.
Students also sorted and delivered feminine products to a Cherry Hill food bank, participated in the Volunteer Resource Fair at Collingswood Library, assembled teen kits for the Alicia Victorious Foundation, created a Holocaust Memorial Mural in the library for International Holocaust Remembrance Day and glazed tiles with uplifting messages for a stairwell at their school.
One of the students’ efforts was to participate in a restoration project at the Franklin Parker Preserve in the Pine Barrens.
“There’s a spot in one of their preserves where there’s been a lot of ORV (off-road vehicle) activity, so we were working to essentially take away the illegal trail,” said environmental science teacher Ron Smith, who led the project.
While off-road vehicles are not illegal, there are regulations on where they can be used, and in the case of Smith’s project, they were not permitted on the preserve.
“The more trails they carve into the forest, that does something called ‘fragmentation,’” Smith said. “That breaks up the habitat from big healthy pieces into small unhealthy pieces where amphibians get run over or maybe certain species of birds are hesitant to cross.”
On the day of the restoration project, students helped replant, cover and block the preserve trail to prevent more illegal access. And throughout the year, Smith and his students volunteer for environmental service projects, such as counting shorebirds for the NJ Audubon Society at North Brigantine and saving horseshoe crabs along the Delaware Bay.
“There’s just not enough scientists to do all the surveys that need to be done (for counting shorebirds,” Smith explained. “If they can count on community science groups such as ourselves, we can cover more areas than they can cover or add to the areas they cover.”
Ways to help the environment year round include improving habitats in residential backyards and community science such as sustained conservation work.
“Whether it be counting birds, or saving horseshoe crabs or monitoring amphibians or counting fireflies in your backyard or controlling lanternflies, there’s a thousand projects that are out there,” Smith observed.
“Starting local is so very important, not only for the immediate health and environment of where you live, but it creates patterns and habits,” he added. “It’s an opportunity to share with your neighbors what you’re up to. Rather than just a once a year for MLK day, why not become active in your garden or active in your community or forge partnerships with conservation groups?
“I think so often people immediately think about a project that’s happening elsewhere, at some preserve or sensitive habitat at a coastal location, but sometimes the most immediate thing that people can do is improve habitats in their own backyards.”