- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 7, 2016

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) - Not everything is coming up roses at the Hoover-Mason Trestle at Bethlehem’s SteelStacks.

Ironweed, sumac, switch grass, black birch, blue asters, Virginia creepers and other plants are also growing along the elevated walkway that takes visitors over the narrow-gauge rail that Bethlehem Steel once used to shuttle raw materials to its blast furnaces.

The urban garden includes pops of purple, yellow and red against earth-toned, native grasses. It’s a botanical feast for birds and bees at what had once been the pinnacle of industry for more than a century.

“This is a fabulous area to sit and just take it all in,” said Ilse Stoll, a master gardener who volunteers her time taking care of the gardens.

The Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, which opened the Hoover-Mason Trestle last year, is installing more plantings this fall and is organizing a volunteer group, initiated by Stoll, to tend the gardens and put together educational programs.

It’s the latest project the redevelopment authority is working on at the 1,650-foot-long elevated walkway that goes from the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem to SteelStacks and takes visitors through industrial relics of the nation’s one-time No. 2 steelmaker.

“We’ve created something that is about connections. It connects visitors from the SteelStacks campus to the Sands. We’re also connecting the community to history - bringing them close to the blast furnaces . and then we have this unexpected connection to plants and greenery that you wouldn’t expect to find at a brownfield,” said Tony Hanna, executive director of the redevelopment authority.

Hanna said the authority decided very early on to incorporate the gardens. The $700,000 project, designed by Wallace, Roberts & Todd, was a major component of the $15.5 million trestle park. The gardens require irrigation systems and beds that are hoisted 36 feet above the ground.

The feature was inspired by the popular High Line, a 1.45-mile Manhattan park that follows the path of a historic elevated freight rail 30 feet above the streets. The High Line, which opened in 2009, is like a green roof with porous paths designed to divert the rain into the lush landscape rather than city sewers.

The Hoover-Mason gardens follow those principles in miniature. Instead of the contiguous landscaping at the High Line, the Hoover-Mason features 11 small gardens interspersed along thewalkway from the blast furnaces east toward the casino.

While many are native species, some are invasive that took root between the rail tracks, blast furnaces other structures when Steel began shutting down its hometown plant in 1995.

Just because it was an “industrial space” doesn’t mean it lost its ability to become a “natural space,” said Patrick Cullina, a horticulturist who consulted on the Bethlehem project and was founding vice president of the Horticulture and Park Operations for the High Line.

“It is a very serendipitous landscape that is unique,” Cullina said.

Cullina recalled being surprised to discover on the property a katsura tree, an ornamental prized in Japan, growing wildly at the shuttered plant. He said the tree adds another fall color and “fills the air with a sugary sweet smell almost like creme brulee.” So, the tree was incorporated into the gardens.

So were black locust trees. Their white bloom rising behind St. Michael’s Cemetery caught Cullina’s attention, as did the cherry birch that dot the wooded areas of South Mountain. The view of those from the trestle inspired Cullina to incorporate the species into the garden. One of the cherry birch trees took root at the Steel plant, snaking up the eastern end of the trestle. The elevated walkway was configured to allow that tree to continue growing.

Cullina said the gardens provide not only seeds and fruit for birds but also cover for animals - a wildlife sanctuary in the city.

The message is consistent with an environmental initiative the city initiated four years ago. In 2012, the National Wildlife Federation certified the entire city of Bethlehem a wildlife habitat because of the number of homeowners, schools and parks that provide shelter, food and water for wildlife.

The trestle expands that footprint and shows the thousands who visit what they could do in their own yards, Stoll said. Volunteers are preparing text and graphics to erect signs along the trestle, laying the groundwork for educational programs. The goal is to make the trestle not only the narrative spine for the steelmaking industry, but also for the environment.

Stoll offered her help after noticing some of the invasive plants and what appeared to her to be a lack of maintenance.

She, master gardeners at the Penn State Extension and other volunteers have logged 45.5 hours weeding since the spring and likely dozens more that weren’t entered into the system.

Stoll said the work is nuanced. Pushing aside the red berries of a Rosa virginiana bush, Stoll grabbed some tall grass. To the non-gardener, she said, native grasses may look like weeds but they are very important for the new ecosystem that has sprung up at the trestle.

She noted that some of the varieties planted in the garden, though pretty to some, will take over the stand. She pointed to a small, native sumac bush - an invasive plant - taking root alongside a larger one planted last year.

How much garden space the sumac will take up will be decided by community members like Stoll who will manage the gardens over the coming years. Gardens are living landscapes that can be pruned and expanded based on what the community wants, Cullina said.

“Once people have a sense of those intentions,” he said, “they get to interpret it in creative ways and make it their own.”





Information from: The Morning Call, https://www.mcall.com

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