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River Grove finds path to safety through project

When Uplands and Bryant elementary schools closed at the end of last school year, a number of students were relocated to River Grove.

Wanting to give students old and new the safest route to school possible, the River Grove Parent-Teacher Organization, led by vice president Amber Imes, set to work on the River Grove Safe Path Project.by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Instructional aide Jaine Sutton stops traffic for students coming out of the new River Grove Safe Path.

The project was the brainchild of Principal Dan Sterling, himself a transplant from Bryant.

“We wanted to improve this entrance so that students would have a practical alternative to crossing the parking lot on their way to and from school,” he said.

And, Imes said, “It’s a very natural space for people, not just school members, but for all community members to enjoy, because a lot of people come here and walk their dogs and move all around.”

After constructing the East End Safe Path, a footpath leading from the school’s east crosswalk on McEwan Road, the River Grove PTO Green Team decided to construct a West End Safe Path, extending from the western crosswalk on McEwan to the fence separating the school parking lot from the front lawn.

Daniel Morena, a father new to River Grove, lent his 25 years of landscaping experience to the project, developing a path concept featuring Sword fern, juniper Bar Harbor, Manzanita Massachusetts and dwarf Oregon grape.

On Oct. 21, a group of 11 River Grove families belonging to the PTO Green Team came together to make the dream for the River Grove Safe Path a reality, collecting garbage and removing invasive English ivy.

The West End Safe Path actually consists of two parallel trails — one side is for pedestrians, the other, cyclists.

“I came out here and my husband’s like, ‘There’s no way; this will take too long, we’re just going to stick to the walking path’ ... and all of these people showed up, and look what we got: it’s beautiful!”

Not only is it beautiful; it’s sustainable. The mulch lining the trail is leftovers donated by Arbor Pro Inc. The River Grove Safe Path sign is made of reclaimed wood.

“The only thing that was purchased that was non-natural for this project would have been the paint in the signs,” Imes said. “And we did put down a layer of landscape rubber.”

Imes added that instead of disposing the debris cleared away to make room for the path, the River Grove Green Team chose to throw it aside and let it compost.

Imes and her husband Aaron Burles designed the Safe Path signs, which were constructed using reclaimed wood. Fathers Jon Harrell and Brent Steinberg installed them.

All told, it took just two hours to bring the West End Safe Path into being. And Imes said they are just warming up; both paths were funded under the River Grove PTO’s 2012-13 School Beautification budget and the River Grove Green Team will be engaging in grounds beautification efforts throughout the school year.

“Green Team rocks, let me tell you,” Imes said. “We’ll just continue this throughout the rest of the year.”

Imes and the PTO Green Team have now set their sights on clearing away man-made footpaths on the River Grove campus that have been overgrown with ivy for at least a decade.

Sterling could not be happier.

“This really is a grove. River Grove is blessed with a lot of beautiful, old trees,” Sterling said, “and we hope into the future that we can make more and more and more use of it so that it becomes an educational environment and also a place where the kids can enjoy the childhood things.”