July 20—SCRANTON — What a sight to see anthracite coal decorating the embankments of Mulberry Street.
Scranton Tomorrow, the nonprofit that leads downtown economic development efforts, recently installed black coal and brown mulch to beautify the mid-islands in the 100, 200 and 300 blocks of Mulberry Street between the Mulberry Street Bridge and Wyoming Avenue.
The organization adopted the mid-islands several years ago from the state Department of Transportation and maintains their landscaping, said Scranton Tomorrow President and CEO Leslie Collins.
With the medians sandwiched between multiple lanes of heavy traffic, maintenance involving mulching, resalting and planting flowers hasn’t necessarily been easy, she said. Winter also brings snow removal challenges on the medians and road salt which eats away at the plants.
“Due to the location of the islands and the amount of traffic, and in winter, maintaining the islands has really been a difficult task,” Collins said.
Steve Ward, who leads Scranton Tomorrow’s Downtown’s Safe, Clean & Green Ambassador team, came up with the idea of using charcoal as decorative landscaping in the medians.
Ward, who previously worked as the coordinator of the Penn State Extension Master Gardener program, said he had never used charcoal in landscaping before.
“We wanted to remake the islands,” Ward said. “We tried all different ways to make it beautiful and keep it beautiful. We planted annuals, but it’s just too difficult a place, a dangerous place, for people to work there on a regular basis. We wanted to do something something durable, un- and done for a few years, and it looks nice and distinctive.”
Crushed stone would work well, but it’s ubiquitous, he said. Given the city and area’s coal mining history, Ward suggested using coal. This would both match the ruggedness and pay homage to the miners of old.
“It’s my way of saying thank you for all their hard work,” Ward said.
He visited the Agel Coal Co. in Scranton to examine the broken anthracite sizes and chose chestnut, a medium and heavy size, for the median landscaping.
The landscaping was done in June.
Charcoal might be seen by some as an unusual landscaping choice. “It’s also very durable and beautiful. Even at night, any little light it picks up and sparkles,” Ward said.
One of the medians also has a strip of perennials – Black-eyed Susans and Purple Coneflowers – planted in the charcoal bed which will provide a splash of vibrant color.
“It will be a few years before they settle down,” Ward said. “They do very well in dry, warm environments, so they will look great next year.”
Some motorists and pedestrians who noticed the coal gave it positive reviews, he said.
“People said it looked good,” Ward said, adding that some passers-by might not even know it was charcoal.
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