The Little Neighborhood that Could

Nestled in the woods, high above the Mississippi River, sits a little Newport neighborhood with a whole lot of attitude. Snaking up the hill along Wild Ridge Trail, you watch for deer and brake to let turkeys strut by. Although it feels more like up north, the neighborhood is just minutes from the Hwy 494 and Hwy 61 interchange, and the impacts of civilization continue to creep in.

I first got a call from the folks in Newport two years ago when they were organizing a community buckthorn pull at the Bailey School Forest; it was clear to me immediately that they were not the sort of people to lay down at a challenge. Determined to keep invasive non-native buckthorn from invading further into the park, they organized local residents, recruited volunteers from the highschool and set to work with chainsaws, hacksaws, weed-wrenches and gloves. By the end of the morning, the mangled corpses of fallen buckthorn were piled high along the edge of the woods, while volunteers happily headed home to do more of the same in their own backyards. Last year, they were at it again, cutting, pulling and poisoning buckthorn with murderous intent.

In the meantime, this feisty group of Newport neighbors has worked together to make improvements in their own yards that benefit the entire community. It all started when Susan Lindoo, a member of the Newport Parks Board, scheduled a site visit at her home with Washington Conservation District specialist Rusty Schmidt. They discussed strategies for controlling buckthorn in her yard, as well as native plants that could replace the buckthorn once it was gone. They also talked about installing a raingarden on her property to slow down runoff from her rooftop and driveway and soak it into the ground. When Susan learned that the South Washington Watershed District would be more likely to provide cost-share funding for a larger-scale neighborhood project, she set to work immediately convincing her neighbors to install raingardens and native plantings of their own.

Because it is at the top of its watershed, runoff from the houses and streets in the Bailey School Forest neighborhood heads downhill into town, where it picks up even more runoff before eventually dumping into the Mississippi River. By installing dry creek beds, raingardens, French drains and native plantings in their yards, these Newport residents are reducing erosion on the steep hillsides around their homes as well as taking a bite out of the polluted runoff that flows downhill into town. This June, the little neighborhood that could celebrated their achievements with a progressive dinner and tour of one another’s new, blue, landscaping features. They traveled from home to home, eating appetizers and treats along the way, and marveled at one another’s efforts. Not only were the new plantings off to a great start, but they could also see one another’s homes for the first time in a long time now that so much of the buckthorn was gone!

I have no doubt that Susan Lindoo and her hardy crew of neighbors will be at it again this fall with another community buckthorn pull. There’s and air of perseverance and spirit in the woods up there. Maybe it’s something in the water, but my hunch is that it’s the people.