From Brownfield to Beauty: Spurring community revitalization through urban tree farms
The Midwest region is home to post-industrial cities with thousands of vacant, polluted properties, or brownfields. Pollution from these once industrial uses can linger in the soil and groundwater complicating future development.
Delta is collaborating with communities across the region to tackle this environmental and economic challenge.
“There are few things more satisfying than seeing the look on someone’s face when they see a beautiful restored Muskegon Lake shoreline, or when they use the Lakeshore Trail bike path,“ said Kathy Evans, Environmental Program Manager at the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC).
Thanks to funding provided by the U.S. Forest Service through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Delta has been teaming up with local partners, like Kathy, since 2013 to plant hybrid poplar trees in Muskegon, Michigan as an interim land management strategy.
Over time, through a process called phytoremediation, the trees will help clean up the soil, beautify the site, and pave the way for a more permanent redevelopment solution.
As of spring 2017, Delta maintains over 7,280 thriving poplar trees across 16 acres of brownfield sites in Muskegon. The trees take up or stabilize environmental contaminants, like heavy metals, chlorinated solvents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can find their way into a community’s drinking water. Over ten years, these trees are expected to absorb millions of gallons of stormwater and over 500 tons of carbon dioxide.
“These trees are going to protect our investment in Muskegon Lake by making sure that groundwater and soils are clean and can no longer affect the quality of the lake,” said Evans. “It’s great to know that local people understand that a formerly degraded, industrial shoreline can become a beautiful, natural area.”
The trees also reduce stormwater runoff, which the EPA identified as the most important remaining uncontrolled non-point source of water pollution. Once the poplar farm is mature, the trees can be harvested and sold locally, creating economic opportunity within the local community. In fact, Delta identified dozens of businesses in West Michigan as potential end users of the hybrid poplar trees that could produce lumber, mulch, fuelwood, crafts, and more.
Delta sees brownfields as an opportunity, and phytoremediation as a viable interim land management strategy for communities all over the Midwest. In order to continue to extend Delta’s reach, we’ve created tools for other post-industrial communities to use to tackle this challenge and increase their economic and environmental resilience.
“THERE ARE FEW THINGS MORE SATISFYING THAN SEEING THE LOOK ON SOMEONE’S FACE WHEN THEY SEE A BEAUTIFUL RESTORED MUSKEGON LAKE SHORELINE.”
— Kathy Evans, Environmental Program Manager, WMSRDC