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Just as one season leads into the next in a continuous cycle of change and connection, a successful project is an ongoing process that changes and adapts with the natural world and the community.
Once planting day has passed, the initial excitement about the project will begin to subside as people settle into a natural rhythm of interaction with the newly transformed space. This quieter time provides an opportunity to step back and reflect on what you accomplished and the challenges you met along the way. If this is the end of a phase in a multiphase project, think about how you will carry forward the lessons that you have learned. Revisit your plans to ensure they reflect new learning and awareness.
In carrying out their tasks, the members of your group will likely have gained an understanding of the site's natural features and what it means to the community. They will have interacted with it during different times of the day and during different seasons. By getting their hands in the dirt, they know the site by sight, smell and touch.
These impressions are valuable. Compare the impressions of those directly involved (project leaders, participants and supporters) with the impressions of those whose involvement was more indirect (adjacent residents, government agencies and the general community). Ask what they liked, what they didn't like and what suggestions they would have for the future.
There are a number of creative ways to record impressions and experiences, including journals, scrapbooks, group discussions, photography, drawings, poetry, performances and essays. Draw from these creative expressions when developing future phases of the project.
Revisit the goals and objectives to determine whether they have been met within the time frame you expected and to consider what worked well and what needs to be improved.
Evaluating your work allows you to learn from your mistakes and make changes where necessary. It also brings to light the areas in which your group has been focusing its efforts. For example, fundraising may be taking more time than expected, which is drawing attention away from other areas. As a result, you may wish to modify your timelines or try a new approach. Regular evaluation will keep your plan on track as it adapts to changing conditions.
The key to developing a sustainable project is to make sure that it becomes a part of your community. Here are three approaches to achieve this.
Interpretative programs help people understand the environmental and cultural influences that have shaped the landscape. They consist of presentations and lectures, as well as creative expressions such as discovery walks, storytelling, poetry and fine arts.
Signage is a practical, relatively permanent way of letting people know about the project and who was involved. Signs also help to raise awareness about naturalization and why it is important to use native plants. Signs can inspire closer observation by challenging the reader to find evidence of animal and insect life or to compare the subtle differences between two types of leaves.
Self-guided tours allow people to discover and interact with the site at their own pace. A printed handout or signs along the way will help people interpret and identify what they are seeing. Workdays provide people with the opportunity to get their hands dirty and reconnect with nature. They also ensure that the necessary maintenance work gets accomplished.
A newsletter is a good way to celebrate your project as it evolves and to keep it in the public eye. You can also publish drawings, stories and poems inspired by the project. Send the newsletters to all those who have been involved and who supported your effort. Let them know how the site is progressing and inform them of any upcoming events or celebrations.
Encourage people to use the site as a public space for a variety of activities. Consider working with local schools to involve students in hands-on maintenance and monitoring activities such as bird counts, insect identification and soil sampling projects. A naturalized space is an ideal outdoor classroom that inspires creativity and learning in all subject areas. To involve students in the long-term stewardship of the project, work with local schools to develop activities that correspond with the curriculum objectives of various grade levels.
A restored area can be a great venue for small-scale festivals, cultural celebrations and the performing arts. Use the space as a gallery for "art in the forest" shows, chamber music performances, poetry readings and dance recitals.
For more information on involving schools, see Evergreen's Programs section
Interest and enthusiasm will remain high if people have the opportunity to get involved in the project. Look for community partners who can help with ongoing site stewardship. Here are a few ideas.
Develop a core group that is committed to the ongoing "care" of the project.
Look for a community centre or social service agency that may want to help with the maintenance of the project. It may be willing to help administer volunteers and add your project to its other programs. Schools, seniors or garden groups are also good contacts.
Work with the local Parks Department or other agencies that have a volunteer coordinator who could help find interested community members.
Some groups have developed Community Stewardship Programs through which volunteers take responsibility for the well-being of the environment. There are many different types of stewardship programs, ranging from one-day clean ups to watershed-based restoration initiatives. Some communities have initiated "adopt a tree" or "adopt a plot" projects to encourage individuals or small groups to take responsibility for one section of a naturalized area.
Community Land Trusts are another way to protect naturalized areas over the long-term. Land trusts are local organizations that acquire and manage environmentally sensitive areas within the community. As registered charities, they issue tax receipts in return for donations of land, money and conservation easements.
For additional resources search Evergreen's Resources section for up to date listings of funders, native plant nurseries, helpful organizations and related books and articles.
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