Volunteers from across the state and country gathered on a frigid, snowy Saturday morning at the Flight 93 Memorial.
They came to commemorate the sacrifice of the downed plane’s passengers and honor their resilience through the National Park Service and National Park Foundation’s reforestation effort, “Plant a Tree at Flight 93.”
The event, which is in its second year, will bring 150,000 new trees to the reclaimed mine site near the Shanksville memorial. For each day, over the course of the four-day project, 150 volunteers – 600 total – will dig and drop 35,000 saplings into the earth.
That ground used to be a forest and it needs to be touched by human hands, according to Patrick Angel, senior forester and soil scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior. It’s currently in a state of arrested natural succession and, essentially, can’t produce life on its own. After tilling and human intervention, Angel said the healing can begin.
“These seedlings have a chance. Mother Nature has a chance to heal this ground,” he said. “Of course, these folks are doing that. They’re healing not only their hearts but also the land.”
Gov. Tom Corbett opened the proceedings and presented a sapling that had come from Gettysburg, which is marking 150 years since its historic battle.
He depicted the 40 heroes aboard Flight 93 as stalwart defenders of the American way of life.
“These are seeds that demonstrate the resistance that they put up and helped to ensure our nation’s freedom,” he said.
And many were eager to get to work, despite near-freezing temperatures and biting winds – another type of resilience on display Saturday. Angel said many of the volunteers’ faces are familiar.
“I thought it was such a moving experience the last time we were here,” said Frederick Ensle of McMurray, Washington County. “When I got the opportunity to come back, I knew I had to do it.”
Ensle once again brought members of his Boy Scout troop – teens who were just old enough in 2001 to understand the gravity of the attacks and who wanted to put their hands to work in preserving the victims’ memory.
“I just wanted to make some sort of memorial to it,” said Derek Taylor, 17. “This is pretty good – a living one.”
He and his workmate, 16-year-old Adam Shope, said they’d like to revisit the site one day years later, to see their efforts in bloom.
“And we could say that we were a part of it,” Shope said.
“I feel like this is kind of better than a cement memorial,” Taylor said. “Because it shows that life goes on, in spite of tragedies.
“It doesn’t just stop time.”
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