Nonfiction in response to Life On Land
Nolan brings ‘green wall’ to South Jersey nature preserve
By Ilana Arougheti
They say it isn’t easy being green. But for Henry Nolan, 17, an Eagle Scout project became the perfect opportunity to take on such a challenge.
Only four percent of all Boy Scouts ultimately earn the rank of Eagle; one of the most important requirements for induction is the completion of a community improvement project based on merit badge skills. Nolan, who lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, chose to create a “green wall” at the Rancocas Nature Center in Westampton, NJ.
Green walls, also called vertical gardens, consist of a frame built of inorganic materials filled with supported systems of plant life, as well as some growth medium like soil or substrate. They must be able to stand up on their own and receive water and nutrients, so that they can grow indefinitely after construction. Nolan’s wall ended up five feet high and about 40 feet long.
Looking to partner with a local group that could help him identify an Eagle project with immediate and realistic difference, Nolan reached out to several South Jersey wildlife preserves before beginning his project, including Rancocas, which was already well-known for its nature center.
“[Rancocas] does a lot to help particularly native bird species, and…to fight against invasive species.”
said Nolan. “I was like, ‘Well, what problems do you have?’”
The staff at Rancocas responded with the idea of separating a specific area of the park for visitor recreation; Nolan took her idea one step further, hoping to create a wall that was enough in tune with nature to serve as more than a pragmatic barrier.
Nolan’s green wall was researched, crowdfunded and completed in the winter of 2017. Nolan was able to get all materials donated by local businesses. He also reached out to his friends and family for help, enabling the whole wall to be assembled in about four hours. Looking back, Nolan found the organizational aspects of building a wall more complex to navigate than the actual construction.
“I learned how to be a leader… to people who I generally saw myself as equal to,” Nolan said. “I needed to be able to step up and say, ‘this is what needs to be done,’ even though these were people who were my close friends or my family.”
In order to create the actual wall, Nolan and his crew dug 6-foot-deep holes, which they filled in with fence posts, gravel and dirt. The fence posts were threaded with enough wire fencing and chicken wire to keep upward-growing plants in place for a long time. Nolan finished by planting and attaching the live plants that would eventually grow to fill the entire wall. He chose to fill in the wall with two species endemic to South Jersey sweet peppers and viburnums, a perennial shrub with clusters of delicate white flowers.
“I made sure to use all native species to allow them to incorporate into the environment,” Nolan said. “This builds up the environment and helps to fight against invasive species, erosion and habitat destruction.”
Nolan first became interested in nature preservation during his first summer of high school, when he started working in the ecology department at Ockanickon Scout Reservation in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. There, he writes and presents lessons to teach a rotating roster of local Boy Scout troops about exploring, identifying, and respecting the natural world.
“My most vivid memory was the time that I was told that I had been accepted to work at the ecology department,” Nolan said. “I guess they liked what I did.”
While green walls have become much more common lately, especially as elements of interior design, Nolan decided to place his wall between the Rancocas hiking trail parking lot and the trail itself. This design served a dual purpose; the wall would not only provide local fauna with shelter and food, but would also become a protective barrier between areas wildlife and visiting human hikers.
Just past its second anniversary, the green wall has continued to grow and thrive, garnering consistent praise from the Rancocas Nature Center staff. Nolan became an Eagle Scout on October 18, 2018. Now a summer staffer in the civics department at Ockanickon, Nolan continues to encourage aspiring South Jersey Eagle Scouts to look to Rancocas and other local nature preserves as beneficial sites for future environmental improvement projects.