Brad Buschur: Building Community through Conservation

Brad Buschur

Brad Buschur, Project Director at Groundwork Lawrence, has been managing the implementation of the Spicket River Greenway initiative for the past three years. This hybrid community building/land conservation program in the City of Lawrence has had a tremendously positive impact on the health of nature and people’s connection to it to date, and that impact continues to grow every day.

Groundwork Lawrence is part of a national organization, called Groundwork USA, which consists of a network of local trusts working to revitalize neighborhoods and transform community liabilities, like abandoned brownfield sites, into community assets. Heather McMann, Executive Director at Groundwork Lawrence elaborates on the organization’s approach, “Groundwork integrates its open space projects into people’s lives by providing programs that increase healthy food access, provide environmental education for children, and create employment opportunities for young adults. I think we’re successful because of the broad way we engage in partnerships to improve the community.”

Simply put, the Spicket River Greenway is a system of seven riverfront public parks linked by a walking path–but it is so much more than just that. Perhaps most significantly, the Greenway is changing the way people perceive and enjoy their local natural resources and outdoor spaces, and it demonstrates many outstanding examples of the link between open space and healthy community.

The Greenway project began with visioning sessions in 2002 orchestrated by the Commonwealth’s Urban River Visions program, involving Kurt Gaertner of the MA Executive Office of Energy & Environment. At the time, a few local organizations were beginning to formulate the idea of linking two existing city parks with a walkway tracing along the river. The meetings helped define a vision among the local, community-based, organizations like Groundwork Lawrence, and shortly thereafter the Greenway began taking shape.

In 2012, after five new parks were created and linked by a walkway to the original two, the expanded “Greenway” became visible as a 7-park “bracelet” of open space strung throughout a series of disadvantaged neighborhoods. Residents were pleasantly surprised to see the parks take shape out of brownfields and abandoned, fenced off, lots. The new open space was instantly integrated into people’s lives. “What the Greenway did was create a whole new way for people to move around the city—for kids to walk to school and ride their bikes, for people to walk their dogs and get exercise” explained Brad.

The Greenway is an avenue for connecting people with the nature of Lawrence, and its working. Public appreciation of the Spicket River is obviously growing. “Every autumn we do a Spicket River Clean-Up Day to address decades of illegal dumping along the river. Over 400 people volunteer annually to pull trash from the river.” Sites along the greenway are now being used for environmental education, often in partnership with Mass Audubon, for children of all ages. Programs focus on the ecological attributes of a site through learning and discovery of the plants, fish and animals that live there.

Another great initiative by Groundwork Lawrence is the “Green Team”—an employment program for high school age young adults which employees 10 young adults year around, and about 30 in the summer. The workers are divided up into two different groups: the “So Fresh Crew” focuses on healthy living and gardening while the “So Green Crew” helps manage and steward open spaces throughout the city.

Mass Audubon and Groundwork Lawrence have worked in partnership for over 4 years. Most recently Mass Audubon’s Education Department worked with Groundwork Lawrence to help them build their capacity in the area of environmental education. In the summer of 2012 the two organizations together ran a summer camp in Lawrence. This past summer, the environmentally focused camp curriculum was taught at many existing summer programs operating in Lawrence. This year’s approach increased the number of children and teens who receive the environmental education experience.

Brad says “We had the ribbon cutting for the Greenway this past summer, but we’re already looking to acquire another brownfield to extend the Greenway to the Spicket’s confluence with the Merrimack River. The Ferrous site is remarkable because it has incredibly significant natural, scenic and cultural attributes. Located at the confluence of the Merrimac and the Spicket Rivers, the 7.4 acre parcel provides core habitat for rare and uncommon birds and fish. There is even a man-made canal and 35-foot waterfall that forms part of the northern boundary of the site. Groundwork has conducted educational programs at the Ferrous site for well over a decade, and kids are always excited to learn that bald eagles hunt there in the winter, and peregrine falcons hunting there in the summer. The site is truly an urban wild, and we’re optimistic and hopeful that we will be able to add it to the Greenway.”

Brad also shared that he is “completely humbled by the opportunity to work with Groundwork Lawrence, and the Spicket River Greenway project. We wouldn’t be so successful without the many partners who helped make the Greenway a reality.” To see the host community rally around this new urban jewel so immediately is full validation of its significance, and another great example of the power of connecting people with nature.