Duke Hopes Park Brings Education as well as Community Spirit

While it may not look like much now, Rebecca Park in Clearfield Borough will soon be transformed through the hard work of local college student Rachel Duke. Duke is working to create a community garden in the park and is hoping to begin as soon as the spring thaw. (Photo by Kimberly Finnigan)

CLEARFIELD – A college student’s project could breathe life into a small local park.

Rachel Duke, a junior at Penn State, may have chosen agriculture science as her career field, but it has been her passion since she was a young child.

Duke, the 2016 Clearfield County Fair Queen, the Pennsylvania State Fair Queen Alternate and Pennsylvania’s Miss United States Agriculture, is required to do an agricultural-based project as part of her capstone course in college.

While there were many possibilities available, Duke has chosen to create a community garden in Clearfield Borough’s Rebecca Park.

“I love Clearfield County. I love this area, but I feel a lot of people are missing that agricultural experience,” Duke said.

“It’s part of our heritage and part of who we are, but people don’t know where their food comes from or how things grow.”

Duke said she has fond memories from her childhood of a lady who used to travel around to the parks in Clearfield to do nature-based crafts with the local children. She said it’s something she would like future generations to enjoy.

Duke said she had taken an “alternative spring break” trip to West Virginia, where they visited different organizations who specialized in sustainable agriculture, such as hydroponics and composting.

Through the trip, she became well-acquainted with Lewis Duttry and Steve Harmic, who serve on the Clearfield Borough Council. She called on that friendship when coming up with an idea for her project.

She recently pitched the idea for the project at a Clearfield Borough Council meeting.

Duke decided to use Rebecca Park, as the site for her community garden project. The project will be very agricultural-oriented, but will also require Duke’s leadership skills. Not only will she have to create the garden, she will need to form a board of directors to over-see the project.

“I knew I have the background to do it.” Duke said. She said Rebecca Park has not been upgraded the way some of the other parks have been over the years.

The size of the park and the manholes make it impossible to build any sort of athletic field in the park. These difficulties make the park the ideal place for a unique project.

Duke is looking to build a 150-by-50 foot garden, which would be divided into 4-by-8 foot plots in raised beds. She said the garden would also offer additional attractions, such as an insect hotel, rain barrel water collection, a sunflower house, a sundial, and an herb garden to help educate residents about agriculture.

Duke said she would like to utilize the Clearfield County Career and Technology students as well as local Eagle Scouts to help build other features, such as an amphitheater in the park.

Duke said she has been making arrangements with local businesses for materials. She said she is hoping to utilize the borough’s compost site for soil and compost. If all goes according to plan, Duke believes she can construct the garden for about $5,000, which she will raise.

Duke said she also would like to integrate hop-scotch grids and other features for younger children to enjoy.

However, one of the most important requirements Duke will need to make the project a reality is support. She said she is working to get funding through donations and a GoFundMe page. If all goes well, Duke said she is hoping to be able to start breaking ground when the snow melts.

“What I really hope to get out of this project is for people to realize the importance of agriculture education,” Duke said.

“It (agricultural education) isn’t required as a part of education in the United States. Students are required to take math and English and art, but they’re not required to take any classes in agriculture.

“I’m hoping this will give people of all ages a chance to learn about agriculture and where their food comes from.”

Duke said anyone interested in helping with the project can contact her through her Facebook page or by e-mailing at duke27@me.com.

“I’m very proud of where I come from,” Duke said. “I’m proud to be from this area and I hope the garden will help build a feeling of camaraderie in the community.

“I’m hoping it will bring a sense of family and small-town pride. There are good people here and they really come together during times of difficulty. I’m hoping the garden will give people something to be proud of.”

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