By Lisa Martone
Florham Park – An environmental makeover program that began in the heart of Morris County has now expanded nationwide into a community event that aims at benefiting neighborhoods and school districts.
It began some years ago when Thomas “Ace” Gallagher of the Whippany section of Hanover Township , who was in the habit of walking his 10-year old son to school every day, happened to gaze up and didn't like the looks of the loose branches teetering above their heads.
“I was walking my son to school and I looked up and noticed a lot of loose branches and debris all around the schools,” he said. “It seemed very hazardous for the kids to be around.”
Gallagher volunteered his company, Ace Gallagher Stump Grinding of Whippany, to come to his son's school and fix the hazards he noticed that day.
His volunteer efforts caught attention of a high school friend and Florham Park councilman, now Mayor Scott Eveland, and Rick Close, district manager of the Morris Plains office of the Davy Tree Expert Company.
Gallagher partnered with Eveland and Close and set out in Florham Park last June with dozens of young people and teachers to clean up the Ridgedale Middle School grounds of hazardous debris, grind down stumps, and remove garbage and diseased trees, just as he had done in Whippany.
The efforts of the three men resulted in the launching of a full-fledged national community service program called “One Day, One School .”
The eight-hour cleanup day in Florham Park last June, mixing tree experts with volunteers, captured national exposure last December with a three-page layout about the program in Tree Care Industry, the official publication of the Tree Care Industry Association.
And, “One Day, One School ” is returning to Florham Park in 2008.
April 5 Event
From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 5, Gallagher, Close, and Eveland again will be joined by William Ronzitti, superintendent of Florham Park's grades K-8 school system, and Acting Police Chief Patrick Montuore to rally together teachers, students and other community members for a day dedicated to the cleanup of the school grounds at the adjacent Briarwood and Brooklake elementary schools off Brooklake Road.
“This is an amazing community effort,” Gallagher said.
“I believe if everybody gives a little bit of their time, it makes a really big difference. This program makes a school better-looking and much safer – and safety is our biggest concern.”
Last year about 75 people came out to donate their services and time to clean up the ball field area of the Ridgedale Middle School off Ridgedale Avenue .
The eight-hour cleanup involved safety pruning of nearly 40 trees and stump grinding of 15 to 20 trees that were removed completely, totaling a donation of an estimated $15,000 in labor and equipment costs.
Eight graders, meanwhile, scoured the area around their ball field to pick up discarded soda bottles and other trash.
“This is a tremendous way to clean up the school with some necessary work, that doesn't cost our taxpayers a dime,” Mayor Eveland said.
Ronzitti agreed that the donated labor and expertise in last June's cleanup at the middle school would have been out of bounds for an improvement funded by the district's budget.
This year, with the help of local tree companies, student volunteers will yet again rake, clean, and plant new trees and shrubs, native to the area.
Naturalist Blaine Rothauser of Florham Park, chairman of the Florham Parks Environmental Commission, will oversee the native planting efforts.
Ronzitti and Montuore will be cooking up complimentary hot dogs and hamburgers, provided by Whole Foods of Madison for the volunteers.
“We are always looking for people to come and help,” Gallagher said. “Getting the kids involved and bringing the community together is also what this is all about.”
All-American Tree Company of Whippany, Woodland Tree Company of Florham Park, Honor Tree Company of Madison and Ironwood Tree Service of Florham Park have also agreed to donate services and workers for the afternoon. Florham Park Hardware will be donating tools for the cleanup.