Westmoreland Conservation District is encouraging park managers and homeowners to go au naturel when mowing by leaving a buffer of vegetation along a stream or lake.
The buffer zone is a swatch of vegetation — whether plants, shrubs or trees — that absorbs pollutants and rain as well as prevents erosion.
The conservation district recently received a $1,700 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection for “No Mow” signs and educational meetings with municipal managers on the importance of protecting streamside vegetation.
“One of the main pollutants in Pennsylvania is sediments coming from an eroding water channel,” said Kathy Hamilton, a landscape architect with the Westmoreland Conservation District.
Water draining from parking lots and roads allow oils, chemicals and salt contamination to easily enter waterways without enough vegetation to filter out the pollution.
Sometimes Hamilton fields complaints from residents about excess water in their yards because of rain.
“We give them a list of plants to put along a stream, which means less mowing and with wildflowers, it can be colorful,” she said.
There is a trade off, however.
Tall grass is attractive to ticks, some of which carry Lyme Disease. However, Hamilton points out, that a buffer edge provides habitat for the predators that eat the insects, she said.
“No Mow” signs have been installed at the Westmoreland County Community College campus in Youngwood, where the conservation district worked on multiple projects over the years to improve the Sewickley Creek tributary.
A large parking lot abutted Sewickley Creek. The conservation district secured grants to remove a 10,000-square-foot section of concrete to create a buffer zone for the waterway.
“People will ask why the grass isn’t being mowed, and that’s why we have the ‘No Mow’ signs so the public knows what is happening,” Hamilton said.
The “No Mow” area has been a nice addition to campus, according to Steve Lippiello, WCCC vice president of administrative services.
“It’s very natural looking,” he said. “It looks like something you would see walking into a wilderness.”
And that was the plan, Lippiello said.
Larry Larese, a WCCC board members and associate director of the Westmoreland Conservation District, brought the conservation district to the college to make the creek look as natural and environmentally friendly as possible, he said.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.