Back to Nature
Landis Homes Residents Cherish Community’s Resources
By Margaret Gates, Custom Content Editor, LNP
May 17, 2017
PHOTOS by JEREMY HESS
Charles Longenecker doesn’t give up easily, especially when it comes to preserving nature. When the retired Lancaster Mennonite biology teacher moved to Landis Homes 12 years ago, he decided to reintroduce native plants to Leaman Woods, a natural area of the community’s south campus that had been overrun by invasive garlic mustard.
Without a water source, some of those new plants died. Still others were lost to some well-meaning groundsmen with a weed whacker. So Longenecker planted more. Then came a paving project a few years ago to create a path that would make the woods more accessible to wheelchairs and motorized scooters. In the process of paving, more plants were lost. But that hasn’t stopped Longenecker.
“I think there’s a better chance of survival this time,” the mild-mannered 84-year-old says with a smile.
That’s because there’s a movement afloat at Landis Woods, the seeds of which were planted a few years ago among Longenecker and a few like-minded residents. Residents like Roland Yoder, 81, a fellow educator who taught art and biology at what is now Dock Mennonite Academy in Lansdale.
“We all have something in common,” Yoder says. “We love nature.”
That love blossomed into an informal group known as the Friends of the Woods and Wetlands. The “woods” is Leaman Woods, and the “wetlands” is the area along Kurtz Run, a spring-fed stream running through the 114-acre campus. A floodplain restoration project four years ago not only improved stormwater management and water quality, but also transformed a sediment-choked pond into a lush habitat for native flora and fauna.
The Friends, a group of volunteer residents working collaboratively with the Landis Homes administration, envisions a fully restored wetlands populated by native plants and wildlife that will serve as a preserve, a resource for study and an aesthetic centerpiece for the campus. The group has a willing partner in Landis Homes.
“It’s part of the vision of making the campus more sustainable,” says Deb Laws-Landis, director of community relations.
What started with a handful of residents three or four years ago has grown to about 33 regulars who have formed 10 working groups to reflect their diverse backgrounds and interests. Among them are groups devoted to removing invasive plants, animals and toxins; increasing the population of native bees, butterflies, birds, flora and fauna; and enhancing the ancient sycamores. There is also a working group that maps the species on campus.
“There’s a large enough group that really appreciates this gem of having this stream and this woods right here,” says resident Don Ziegler, who lives in one of the ecofriendly hybrid homes overlooking Kurtz Run.
Ziegler, 74, arrived at Landis Homes three years ago with his wife and a collection of native bees that he used to pollinate his fruit trees in Akron. Naturally, he fit right in. Volunteers at the community’s woodshop built bee boxes that have been placed along Kurtz Run to host the native pollinators that live there, Ziegler says.
Like Longenecker and Yoder, Ziegler recognizes that the work the Friends group does has implications that extend far beyond the boundaries of Landis Homes. He views the wetlands like a sanctuary city where bees and other insects can thrive. Without them, foods that are dependent on pollination become endangered.
“All native pollinators need native plants,” he says. “If you have the native plants, the native bees can survive. And if you have the bees, then we can survive.”
That broader view extends to some of the group’s other projects as well, like removing invasive plants, in particular hemlock, teasel weed and garlic mustard — all of which they’ve dug up by hand.
“Hemlock is poisonous to anybody and any animal,” Yoder says.
“One plant can produce thousands of seeds in one season. If half of that survives, it’s spreading all over the county.
“Teasel is just as bad,” he says of the rugged weed that gives off hundreds of seeds. Teasel is a biennial plant, meaning it has a two-year life cycle.
“If you keep them under control for two years, you’ve got them licked,” Yoder says.
Toiling to remove invaders is only part of the work of Friends of the Woods and Wetlands. The group also has projects to bring new species to campus. Currently, they are assembling 100 butterfly kits for residents to adopt. Each kit will include at least six plants designed to accommodate different butterflies in the various stages of their life cycle.
“We expect to have many more butterflies than we ever had,” Yoder says.
The group also spends time educating, through guest speakers, films, programs, exhibits and events like wildflower walks. They’ve also hosted numerous student groups. The hope is that the example of stewardship will spread.
“We’ve done a little evangelism,” Longenecker says. “I’m not going to be around here all that many years. I hope there will be someone that follows us.”
Yoder is confident that interest will grow. “As younger ones experience life, they’ll realize that what we’re talking about is a serious matter.”
But the men acknowledge that having the opportunity to champion an environmental cause in their own backyard has personal benefits as well.
“It keeps alive some of the interest from our years of teaching before retirement,” Longenecker says. “It’s stimulating. “We keep learning,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “learning and forgetting.”
“And enjoying,” Ziegler says. “I wake up and I think, ‘I have six or eight things I could do in the woods and wetlands. What do I want to do most?”
Participants in the Friends of the Woods and Wetlands group at Landis Homes include, from left, Roland Yoder, Don Ziegler, Charles Longenecker, Dick Boshart and Bruce Allison.
Charles Longenecker, left, and Roland Yoder remove invasive teasel weed.