A pastoral setting of unparalleled beauty, the land surrounding the Marianist Environmental Education Center (MEEC) is replete with prairie grass, goldenrod and coneflower. It takes a pretty good stretch of the imagination to believe that just two decades ago, a portion of this terrain – located at Mount St. John in Dayton – was a 14-acre sand and gravel pit left over from the construction of Interstate 675.
“Yes,” recalls Marianist Sister Leanne Jablonski, the center’s director, “it was a giant sandbox. A gaping, ugly hole in the middle of a place that had been a serene retreat for more than 100 years.”
The initial solution proposed to eliminate the eyesore, she adds, was far from idyllic: Fill the area with topsoil and attempt to plant “highway grass” on the steep grade.
The Catholic religious community, however, decided to take matters into its own hands – and heart.
“Faith communities are long-term thinkers by nature,” Sister Jablonski says. “We believe we have a moral obligation to carry on the heritage of our ancestors, and to think about what’s going to be left to our descendents in terms of the environment.
“To us, the land is sacred, and we are entrusted to care for it.”
More than 200 members of the Marianist community embarked on a restoration project that involved hydroseeding the hole and planting native grasses and wildflowers on the 100 acres adjoining it. Through the years, MEEC members have added a winding 1.2-mile nature trail; constructed a labyrinth filled with little bluestem and royal catchfly; designed an earthwork, “Sacred Embrace,” comprised of 30 native Ohio plants; and hosted a variety of environmental educational programs for residents and businesses.
The fruits of the community’s labors have not gone unnoticed. This summer, kudos came from America’s oldest grassroots environmental organization: The center was featured in the Sierra Club’s inaugural Faith in Action report, which acknowledged one exceptional environmental initiative from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
“The Marianist Center is a longstanding example of real earth stewardship,” says Lyndsay Moseley, Sierra Club Representative for Faith Partnerships. “They’ve set an example we can all learn from.”
For more information about the center, call 937/429-3582 or visit http://meec.udayton.edu