Mucking around with Wessie! It's volunteers rocking at Otterbein Lake! Volunteers put on their mud boots, hats, gloves: picked up their tools... and headed out for three Saturdays in a row to work for three hours each session. These Otterbein College students met up with other local Westerville volunteers at a giant pit in the ground. The eight-acre hole was once a farm field. As housing developments were made, the field turned into a source for landscape yards. After that, it filled with water. It bounced hands several times--was considered as a sewage sludge pit (it is along Alum Creek Park and Otterbein College campus)--and finally the community took possession to turn it into a park.
Three years ago Otterbein students banded together into a student volunteer group called Plan-It Earth and joined forced with the volunteers of Otterbein Lake and the results have been terrific! Not only are there more hands to help turn Otterbein Lake into a community jewel, but Otterbein students are learning about invasive plants, environmental geology, conservation and are taking an ownership in the Westerville community. Soon Otterbein Lake is going to install an area for handicapped citizens to fish, a walkway for ease of traveling around the lake, and an education center with a vegetative roof (green and made of plants.) Otterbein students and professors, with Westerville specialist and dedicated volunteers, will be able to use the park (and claim their hand in it) for decades to come.
Plan-It Earth learned of Otterbein Lake through searching online for local environmental groups. Although the lake and the campus are blocks from one another--none of the students had heard or seen it. (It was SO buried in trash and weeds) Plan-It Earth members continued to meet weekly on campus and research. We wanted to know: was Otterbein Lake still an organization? (a date on the website told us likely) Was this the best use of our volunteer time? (we decided yes because it has lots of education potential and is proactive instead of responsive) Would we have the funds and education to volunteer? (we sent out letters to professors asking them to join us. They agreed! Additionally, the Center for Community Engagement--part of the college--said we'd be under their financial roof for up to $150 for the year, and they'd handle financial planning of the quarterly big volunteer days of "Community Plunges".) Finally, through e-mail they were able to make contact with Otterbein Lake personnel. From there the relationship blossomed! Plan-It Earth helps coordinate two major volunteer days with Otterbein Lake each year. On these days, Plan-It Earth and other Otterbein College volunteer groups attempt to get as many people as they can out into the Westerville and Columbus Ohio community volunteering. One is held in the fall, and the other on Earth Day. Because Otterbein Lake is so close, Plan-It Earth members didn't have to plan on transportation (as some other volunteer sites had) instead, they worked more on getting the word out the students on campus.
We spread the word by manning tables at our campus center and asking people to sign up, putting around signs and flyers, sending out a campus e-mail, going to the Freshman picnics and handing out half-sheet flyers, making a group on Facebook for people to RSVP, and talking up volunteering at Otterbein Lake. We filled out slots of 20 students and some of the slots for the other community volunteer sites. Another big bonus is all of the volunteers on the big days get t-shirts funded by Otterbein, Ohio Campus Compact, and Learn & Serve.
But volunteering with Otterbein lake isn't only limited to the "Community Plunges" which Otterbein's Center for Community Engagement puts on. Additionally, Plan-It Earth works on its own. We have a small operating budget for the entire year and spread it among all of the projects we're involved on. With Otterbein Lake, we've spent some of this budget to make volunteer manuals so that volunteers can identify plants (both good and bad for the environment [and good and bad to touch]).
As part of a portion of Otterbein Lake's grants, all invasive species surrounding the lake must be removed and native Ohio plants replanted. Over and over again Otterbein Students write in their voluntary reflection responses, "Don't bring plants from China!" "Don't plant foreign plants." "When I have a house, I'm going to put in good plants." Three hours each week of battling the hardy honey suckle will really drive home the hard-learned lesson of invasive plants. In the spring month, students put down their loppers to do battle with other non-natives such as Garlic Mustard. The volunteer director of the project, Linda Lee Brownstein, teaches all volunteers why foreign plants cause such troubles. Typically, they have no natural predators, they are aggressive in leafing early and loosing their leaves late, and grow thickly. This means that they let no sunlight in for the native plants and literally "choke them out."
This fall, student volunteers learned from their professors and leading Westerville volunteers about erosion. The lake water had been lowered to let tractors change the unnatural steeps sides of the lake into more smooth slopes. Afterwards, volunteers planted grass seed covered with straw. It wasn't apparent why this was needed until after a rain and the erosion lines from water seeping from the top of the lake took the soil and made mini-river beds all the way down. This is bad because it ruins top soil... and there isn't much top-soil left at this unnatural location. So under the direction of Brownstein and the nine other Westerville volunteer leaders, double work was done to reseed the banks.
Sometimes volunteering can take a toll. Nearly all members of Plan-It Earth have suffered from poison ivy at one time or another. They routinely walk the two blocks back to campus nursing scratches and small wounds. Ohio has mainly clay dirt, and it is VERY hard to haul up a slope or break to plant seeds. (I testify! I have some major causes for a girl from breaking up clay soil with rakes.) But it's all worth it... in just these three short years Otterbein Lake has changed from a basic square weed-infested hole in the ground into a contoured visible and pretty lake.
Each week, Plan-It Earth meets on Mondays to learn about environmental issues and plan events out. Right now we're planning on an Earth Week event (tba) and continuing to volunteer with Otterbein Lake so long as the weather holds. (There is one more Saturday work day planned tentatively. But we filled this out just in case the last day is cancelled due to an early snow.) In the winter, we'll turn our attention to educating the campus about reducing, reusing and recycling.
Facts for Fall of 2007:
Total Weekly Volunteers: 9
Total Plunge Volunteers: 21
Total Hours Volunteered: 90
Total Financial Contribution $1147.50 (30 workers working for 3 hours at average construction worker pay in Ohio of $12.75per hour)
Future Plans as of Fall 2007
Work with Otterbein Lake once more this year, and again in the spring
Research raising funds for Otterbein Lake to build its boardwalk
Work on more publicity to have a bigger weekly volunteer group
Allocate more hand tools
Work with professors to begin using Otterbein Lake as a teaching opportunity
(Non-Otterbein Lake Project Goals [Other ones for Plan-It Earth])
Make a community sustainable garden
--Research on “how to” has begun
--Find gardeners for lots
--Fall clean-up of gardens
Begin research on a free-to-borrow bike program for the campus
Begin planning Earth Week
Research how to educate students on recycling, and continue to implement it on campus
~The Volunteers of Plan-it Earth