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Audubon’s Samara Project Finds Roots & Wings in York, Pennsylvania

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

Volunteers at planting event in York. (Courtesy: Lily Richwine)

The National Audubon Society’s mission statement is to protect birds and the places they need through targeted conservation and advocacy, through focal strategies of Coasts, Water, Forest, Climate, and Bird-Friendly Communities. In that spirit, Audubon Mid-Atlantic is fostering bird-friendly communities in our neck of the woods—the City of York, Pennsylvania.

For over a decade, Audubon Mid-Atlantic has worked alongside local officials, educators, and businesses in the City of York with the goal of transforming areas of the city into bird-friendly communities. The Samara Project is at the heart of this process.

Collaboration is the key to cultivating bird-friendly communities. The goal of the Samara Project is to go beyond simply expanding bird habitats in York, but to create spaces that are designed by, for, and with the direct assistance of the local community—spaces that provide a healthy habitat while also complimenting the unique beauty of each neighborhood. This project began with a dedicated group of neighbors in the city of York who came together to form the Samara Project neighborhood steering committee.

Volunteers at planting event in York. (Courtesy: Lily Richwine)

Named for the tiny seed pockets, often dubbed “helicopters,” that spread and help expand tree communities, the Samara Project was designed with the goal of expanding healthy habitats well beyond the borders of a traditional community garden. The neighbors shared big ideas that turned into well-crafted plans that began to take root as spring brought a return to gathering and an eagerness to reconnect.

Faith Wave Garden in York (Courtesy: Lily Richwine)

One focus of the Samara Project is the Gather & Scatter native plant garden projects. Based in priority locations identified by the steering committee, these plantings encourage members of the community to get involved by volunteering their time in the gardens, adding native plants to their own garden spaces, and making new connections with people and organizations in the community. The end result? Creating a more bird-friendly York.

By July, two new habitat gardens hosted over 200 native plants and around two dozen neighbors engaged in weeding, planting, and watering. Volunteers at planting events were invited to take home free native plants to add to their own gardens and a dozen community members volunteered to be a part of the inaugural plant foster program. These volunteers will grow native plants from seeds for three months this summer with the ultimate goal of planting their home-grown natives in other new gardens this fall. The plant foster program will result in nearly 200 plants in a community garden space, with each volunteer having the option to keep a few of the seedlings for their own gardens.

By September, the city will have two additional bird-friendly gardens: a kid-friendly pollinator garden that doubles as a riparian buffer to protect the Codorus Creek from pollutants and the bank from erosion as well as a stormwater management garden to help alleviate significant erosion and reduce polluted runoff. October will welcome the crown jewel of the project: a neighbor- and bird-friendly oasis that spans an entire block and connects a habitat corridor stretching from the edge of the neighborhood to the Great Egret nesting area at Kiwanis Lake. In addition to a range of native plants, walking paths, and resting places, the garden will feature homegrown artwork from another area of our project—an Artful Science competition. Featured artwork will complement the gardens and help to spread a message of connectivity, conservation, and cooperation for years to come.

Pathway Garden planted by Samara Project volunteers (Courtesy: Lily Richwine)

Ultimately, the Samara Project is a pilot project to weave together bird conservation and community beautification by cultivating a bird-friendly community in York, Pennsylvania. Program manuals created by the Samara Project fellows will detail project steps as well as its successes and challenges, ensuring that York’s Samara Project will be replicable in communities across the Mid-Atlantic region.

If you’re interested in getting involved with future events, visit the Samara Project website! The Artful Science competition runs through the end of July and is open to Pennsylvania residents ages 13 or older. Winning entries in each category will be featured in the community garden spaces. And, on August 14th, Audubon is hosting a Small Spaces Workshop featuring container and vertical garden ideas with big potential for small spaces including patios, porches, and backyards. With plantings scheduled throughout the fall, there are opportunities for everyone. See a full list of plantings and events on the Samara Project Events page.

Volunteers at planting event in York! (Courtesy: Lily Richwine)

Audubon thanks all of the neighbors, community groups, partner organizations, and the City of York for bringing this project to life. Audubon’s Samara Project is generously funded by the Powder Mill Foundation and the Codorus Watershed Fund of the York County Community Foundation.

Lily Richwine, Samara Project Fellow


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