Students team with Catoctin Mountain Park for award-winning design
Guest post by Arielle J. Patterson
They planted a garden outside the visitors’ center in Catoctin Mountain Park. But it died.
The garden suffered from poor maintenance – notably, mis-directed weeding – and it was soon overrun by invasive plants from the park.
So, fourth-grade students from Robert Moton Elementary School in Westminster, Md., spent the school year designing a new garden for the center, and this month they were named winners of the First Bloom Garden Design Contest.
First Bloom, a program under the National Park Foundation, strives to teach fourth through sixth grade students about the environment by using hands-on experience working in national parks.
The students of Robert Moton teamed with Catoctin Mountain Park and produced the winning design from among 24 school-park partnerships.
The students visited the visitors center and found that the area outside the entrance was a barren eyesore.
Before they could begin their planning, the students had to learn about nature and the land that they were dealing with. They learned that the garden had been invaded by Japanese stiltgrass. They learned how it spread and how it impacted the other plants in the area.
They met with park rangers to select plants native to the Catoctin Park region and learned techniques to plant and maintain their garden. The students chose the native plants they wanted to include in their design: American holly, New England aster and milkweed.
They placed the American holly in the back because it was larger and needed more shade, but they put the New England aster in the front because it is a medium-sized plant and would catch a visitor’s eye. They put the milkweed in the front because it attracts butterflies, which make the garden look more serene and beautiful.
Once their plan was in place they used Google Earth to find an overhead image of the visitors’ center, and then mapped out their plans. The students converted their hand drawn map into a computer graphic and place it on top of the Google Earth image.
All of the submitted garden designs were displayed on the First Bloom website for public voting from April 15 to May 16. More than 7,300 votes were cast and of that number, 1,500 went to Robert Moton Elementary School.
The students will be taking a trip to DC, funded by the National Park Foundation and Aramark, as their reward.