Environment Erie

By Craig Schill
GreenEriePA Writer

Environment Erie is a nonprofit organization committed to the sustainability of our community's natural resources through restoration, revitalization, and education, especially among the youth.
Environment Erie was created through the merger of two active Erie nonprofit organizations: Earth Action (formerly called Earth Force) and Pennsylvania Lake Erie Watershed Association (PLEWA). The two organizations, having worked in close contact for some time, merged in order to more easily apply their green ideas for education (Earth Action) and practice (PLEWA) seamlessly. Since this merger, a new program, Begin ANEW, has been created and added to the in-house programs offered by Environment Erie.

Earth Action devotes itself to educating and involving the Erie-area youth in green practices. In the process, teachers make decisions on which projects will be tackled, and both teachers and students collaborate on that project. During teacher workshops, Waste Management, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and Sea Grant sometimes get involved to help teachers develop lessons while receiving Act 48 credits. Earth Action also hosts youth training days and summits, which is where students report on projects. In fact, thanks to a past project about energy usage, Erie schools saved about $86,000 in utility bills.

Gannon students participating in GIVE

PLEWA has been in existence since 2002 and it focuses on protecting and restoring local watersheds. The main purpose of this organization is to identify and address environmental issues in the area by collaborating with local businesses and organizations. This year, PLEWA hosted three public workshops and walking tours to highlight the Cascade Creek restoration work completed in Frontier Park. JrPLEWA is very similar in that it also takes on environmental issues in the Erie region, but the organization is mostly made up of high school students. At the JrPLEWA section on the Environment Erie website, a list of their current and past projects can be found.

The Begin ANEW project works to revitalize existing green spaces and wildlife areas across the city to reconnect residents with nature. Specifically, this group has been working with businesses to have rain gardens installed to help control storm water runoff. Composting workshops are also hosted where attendees can expect to receive a free composter. This year, BeginANEW hosted three workshops for local residents to learn about storm water management on their property, and even gave away free rain barrels to participants. They also hosted a two-day workshop for professionals who work with storm water. Treevitalize, a program to add more trees to urban spaces, provided grants to Harborcreek township, North East Borough, Girard, the City of Erie, Corry, and Millcreek Township. Gannon University and Penn State Behrend worked in cooperation with their associated townships to help implement these funds to effectively green the local landscapes. Together, these partner programs work in tandem to pool resources and contacts in order to make Erie a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable city.

Some organizations that have funded these groups include Sea Grant, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Coastal Zone Management, and the Erie Community Foundation. The PA DEP also gives out grants for education and "growing greener" grants based on the implementation of Best Management Practices. Donations from local businesses are also received on a yearly basis, helping Environment Erie generate tax credits for the businesses.

Many volunteer opportunities exist within the organization, including event days and helping with projects. Past projects have included installing rain gardens at the YMCA at the corner of 38th and Cherry Streets, St. George, Iroquois Elementary School, Plastikos in Summit Township, and behind the City of Erie Police Station. A raised bed garden was also constructed near the Country Fair at 12th and Parade streets, bringing students and residents together to help the community.

A presentation

The Environment Erie site lists opportunities to volunteer, includes information on all three of its programs, and contains a calendar for upcoming green events in Erie. The site also features short articles on green news in the Erie area. Informational links on green living and green practices make this website a great starting place for additional information on any subject the programs support. Groups and individuals will also find many volunteer opportunities and learning experiences in which they can participate.

Photos courtesy of Angela Porfilio.