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AmeriCorps volunteers roll up their sleeves at Taltree Arboretum

Gilbert Howard Bronx N.Y. Lex Hunt BrysCity N.C. help clean up pond Taltree Arboretum Valparaiso. | Phoprovided~Matthew C. McBain

Gilbert Howard of Bronx, N.Y., and Lex Hunt of Bryson City, N.C., help clean up the pond at Taltree Arboretum in Valparaiso. | Photo provided~Matthew C. McBain

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For more on Taltree Arboretum and Gardens, go to www.taltree.org. For more on the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, go to www.americorps.gov/nccc.

Updated: September 3, 2013 7:09AM



VALPARAISO — The railway garden pond at Taltree Arboretum and Gardens was thick with invasive algae.

The pond is part of a circulating system that provides water for irrigation, as well as the railway garden’s many water features. Left to continue blooming, the algae risked getting into the water features or clogging the system’s connections.

On Wednesday, a group of volunteers with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps dug in with pitchforks and a small boom to capture the algae, clearing the muck in less than half a day.

“This is fantastic,” said Gilbert Howard, 24, a volunteer from the Bronx who, with the rest of the nine-member team, is tackling an assortment of projects in the Midwest over a 10-month period. The volunteers also helped with disaster relief in North Dakota, and are assisting with a YMCA camp, among other stops.

Howard didn’t mind raking up the thick, greenish slime, and said being at Taltree was peaceful.

“It’s like a vacation to get away from the craziness of the city,” he said. “I don’t want to leave.”

The NCCC volunteers have been at Taltree for almost three weeks and leave Friday. In addition to cleaning the pond, they maintained trails and worked on a new outdoor performance stage.

This is the fifth NCCC team hosted by Taltree over the past two years. While the volunteers have put in thousands of hours at the arboretum on a wide array of tasks, the value of their work goes beyond project completion.

“It’s a morale booster. It reminds us of why we’re doing what we do,” said Alexis Faust, the garden’s president and chief executive officer. “We don’t often have time to stop and discuss the bigger mission of Taltree because we’re all too busy.”

Working with the NCCC forces discussion of that mission because the program includes two days of training, Faust said, and the level of inquiry from the volunteers is validating.

“It really goes so much further than the work you get from a group of people,” Faust said. “It’s a learning process, the rejuvenation of our mission through them.”



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