October 15th was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon. It was the kind of afternoon perfect for visiting with friends, going for a walk, or sitting outside reading a book. But on this particular Sunday afternoon more than fifty Highlands folks – students, parents, faculty, and staff – came to Red Mountain Park ready to work.
The Park’s volunteer coordinator led our group on a circuitous route away from the entrance, beside a field, and past the dog park to a patch of ‘uncleared’ forest. The first thing we noticed was weedy undergrowth that covered the ground underneath the canopy of trees. It was thick and bushy, making the forest floor impassable. Impassable for hikers and other human explorers, but also impassable for native wildlife like deer, turkeys, and foxes. The culprit (that weedy bushy undergrowth) was primarily an invasive species called Chinese privet, and our job for the afternoon was to remove it. Angela, our supervisor, showed us how to identify privet (the leaves are the size of your thumbnail, round, and smooth), handed out gloves and loppers, and put us to work.
Our Highlands volunteers spread out into small groups. We pulled small privet plants up by the roots. We trimmed larger privet plants down to the ground. We picked up fallen limbs and pulled dead vines out of the trees. And we piled everything into a long row to be mulched by the Red Mountain Park staff the following week. There were middle schoolers working next to first graders and parents working next to teachers. And we – all of us – moved steadily up a small incline, clearing the privet and leaving a clear, open, walkable forest floor. By the end of the afternoon, the mulch pile was 80+ feet long and 5-6 feet high, and we were tired, sweaty, and proud of the small section of forest we had opened up for wildlife. ‘Forest restoration’ is the official name for this service project, but for us it was a fun way to help our community on a Sunday afternoon.
Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).