WHEELING - Where most people see a vacant lot, Wheeling resident Martin Wach sees an opportunity for growth - of the vegetative variety, that is.
Wach and about a dozen others are preparing to plant what they are calling the "South Wheeling Alive" garden, the latest of several such community gardens to sprout up across the Friendly City. The new garden site is near the intersection of 47th and Jacob streets, across the street from Pulaski Park, and is nearly ready for its first full season of cultivation after opening last August.
That is thanks in large part to a group of high school students from, fittingly enough, New Jersey - the Garden State. About nine students from Roselle Catholic High School in Roselle, N.J., came to Wheeling on a community service trip, and spent two days pulling weeds, tilling soil and moving bricks, making sure the South Wheeling garden's 18 individual plots are ready for the growing season.
Visiting the Ohio Valley is something the school has done each of the past eight years during Easter time, completing various projects from building a wheelchair ramp for a handicapped Glen Dale resident to work with the House of the Carpenter on Wheeling Island and the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center on 18th Street.
Their connection to the area is through the Marist Brothers, specifically Brother Dan O'Riordan, who transferred to Roselle High after leaving Bishop Donahue High School and helped facilitate the yearly community service trips.
Wach and Brother John Byrd of the South Wheeling Preservation Alliance said the students' efforts saved them months worth of work.
"These kids have been unbelievable," said Wach.
As food and gas prices continue to climb, Wach believes community gardening is more important than ever, promoting the idea that one can move toward self-sustainability even in an urban environment.
He's certainly done his part to try and cultivate the concept in Wheeling. He and his wife Delia began a garden in a previously rubble-strewn lot near the Virginia Park Apartments in the downtown that is still thriving, and a few more are expected to begin this year on 13th and 15th streets.
"We're getting requests every day to do more," said Wach.
Byrd said most of the plots in the South Wheeling garden have been claimed, but there are a few still available and he can be reached at (304) 232-3618 for more information.
Originally published in The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register.