Senior students at Governor Mifflin High School in Shillington, Pa., built eight cedar birdhouses — designed for bluebirds — for nearby LedgeRock Golf Club, the latest project in an ongoing partnership between the 13-year-old course and the local school district. Photo by Alan FitzGerald
It would take hardly any effort at all for the golf course maintenance staff at LedgeRock Golf Club in Mohnton, Pa., to churn out more than enough birdhouses to meet the course’s needs.
“Just put some lumber in front of them,” GCSAA Class A superintendent Alan FitzGerald says of his crew members, “and they’d have a bunch out in a week.”
FitzGerald instead opted for a markedly different approach.
Through his connections and work with the local Governor Mifflin School District, FitzGerald, a 22-year GCSAA member, learned that a class in the district’s high school was in need of woodworking projects. The teacher mentioned birdhouses, and FitzGerald expressed his interest. As the 13-year-old, Rees Jones-designed LedgeRock GC just south of Reading, Pa., strives to become a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, FitzGerald — who has been there since before grow-in — has kept a close eye on the course’s environmental friendliness.
LedgeRock is a natural haven for, well, nature. But FitzGerald is keen to enhance its environmental stature.
“It was a happy convenience for us. I said, ‘If you’d like to build us some bird boxes, we could supply the materials,’” FitzGerald recalls of that conversation last spring. “Then I didn’t hear much from them. Then school started, and they contacted me and said, ‘We have these bird boxes for you. Do you have plans for them?’”
In November, students at Governor Mifflin High School delivered eight bluebird houses, manufactured by seniors in new instructor Rebecca Nelson’s applied design class.
“The majority of them were very into it,” Nelson says. “They did a lot of research into it. They weren’t just given plans. They did research on the type of birds and the best design for the area.”
The boxes are made of cedar to withstand the elements and feature a swinging lid or hinged side to permit cleaning.
“I think they turned out well,” Nelson says.
It’s not the first partnership between LedgeRock and Governor Mifflin, nor will it be the last.
FitzGerald recalls that the school district superintendent retired a couple of years ago and joined LedgeRock. He mentioned a woodworking class was building a miniature golf course for a fundraiser and asked FitzGerald — one superintendent to another — for suggestions for its design and construction.
FitzGerald and his staff eagerly assisted. Conversations with others in the district grew, FitzGerald says, to, “Would you be interested in doing something bigger?”
He suggested LedgeRock host a field trip through First Green, GCSAA’s education outreach program that provides hands-on lessons in the environment and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. LedgeRock held its first First Green field trips in October 2018, another smaller event the following spring and another large event in October 2019.
“It was another success,” FitzGerald reports.
LedgeRock Golf Club is a private, 18-hole facility near Reading, Pa. Photo by Larry Lambrecht
FitzGerald’s plan is to install the birdhouses this winter, but that’s not the end. To bring the project full circle, he has invited the “bird team” at Cumru Elementary — one of Governor Mifflin’s elementary schools — to visit LedgeRock next spring, when, FitzGerald hopes, the new birdhouses will have their first residents.
Cumru’s bird team (which is a bit of a misnomer; it’s also the school’s “turtle team” until those reptiles hibernate) is in charge of feeding the birds that visit the school’s atrium. The third and fourth graders then spy on the winged visitors and have identified, so far, more than a half-dozen species on the school grounds.
“I want to get the kids outside — not just outside the school, but outside at a place like LedgeRock for some real birding,” says Janemarie McKay, a STEM and gifted teacher at Cumru Elementary and the “birdtle” team’s sponsor. “Alan offered to let the bird team come out to LedgeRock. It’s so beautiful there. For him to offer the golf course for the students, it’s a way for them to get to see way more species than just here at school.”
McKay says her students relish their First Green experiences and predicts the same for the birding field trip.
“It’s very positive,” she says. “They can’t wait to go back. I’d love to bring my bird team to LedgeRock. Just getting out in nature, No. 1, hopefully they’ll proceed to want to golf, just to get to spend time in a place that beautiful. You’re planting that seed early on. But it’s also about future-ready jobs and planting that seed early.”
FitzGerald doesn’t plan to let the birdhouse project begin and end with just a handful of homes. Ideally, he says, he’ll get a few a year from Governor Mifflin High School, keeping the woodworkers in projects and the course in birdhouses.
“Moving forward, I’d like to work with the school to build a few more every year,” he says, “and keep building the program from there. There are also bat boxes and bird-of-prey boxes. I want to see how it grows organically with Janemarie. We want to make sure it works for her kids.”
Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s managing editor.