By Derek Lirange

Work on Worcester is Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s student lead endeavor to coordinate groups of students to help with community projects in our fair city. New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill’s Worcester Tree Initiative program had the pleasure of working with a group of 13 students for this year’s Work on Worcester event on Saturday, Aug. 31.

The students helped us with one of our largest scale work sites, West Boylston Street. This project runs from New Bond Street to Brooks Street, about a quarter-mile of land set between the busy streetscape and the train tracks which run parallel to it. Readers of our blog will be familiar with this site because we have spent a lot of time there with our Young Adult Foresters this summer. Now that our young adult Foresters program is over we are eager to get as much help as we can to keep up their good work.

As a gateway to the city of Worcester, West Boylston Street is an important first look at what Worcester has to offer. It is also a site that the Worcester Tree Initiative department has long been invested in. Several years ago the land was cleared of overgrowth by the city of Worcester and planted with new flowering cherry trees that bloom in the early spring creating a long corridor of flowering trees as you enter or exit the city. WTI has been watering, weeding, and pruning these trees since they were planted. In more recent years we have also planting ornamental grasses and taken on the upkeep of the landscape at large.

However, in the intervening years since the major overhaul of the site the thick layer of mulch that was put over it to block weeds has begun to decompose and more and more weeds have come up through it. The site is actually rich with activity in the soil from an abundance of worms, which are enriching the soil, to toads, snakes, and the occasional rabbit and woodchuck hiding among the weeds. With these factors at play we are forming a new plan for the whole space and we know we need all the help we can get to get it into shape.

That’s why we asked WPI for their help at this site, and when they let us know that it had been accepted as a Work on Worcester project we were thrilled and filled with gratitude. With their help we were able to get started on the enormous task of adding more mulch to the site, this time with a sublayer of cardboard, donated to us by a nearby store. The cardboard acts as an extra layer, still compostable, and permeable to water but not to weeds. The students put more than 45 hours of labor into the site that day and laid cardboard and mulch over roughly 1,500 square feet, focusing on keeping the space adjacent to the sidewalk clean and ensuring the trees were weed free. In such a large space we need a huge head start like this to get ready for the nearing fall and winter.

Our deep and sincere thanks go to the students of WPI for organizing this day, and especially to the awesome team of hard working volunteers that worked with us at West Boylston Street. We hope that as they explore the city and towns beyond they will pass by often and be proud of their work and contribution to Worcester’s Community forest.