Bordered by rowhomes, a compact urban forest is accessed via a narrow hidden alley alongside 233 Melville St.
This is the bird sanctuary, created and managed by Anne Froehling, Julie Bush and Richard Guffanti – three volunteers from the Spruce Hill Community Association.
SHCA acquired the land in 1981. It was a popular trash dump until Froehling and Bush, both landscape architects, began constructing the sanctuary in 2011, with the help of a Sustainable Community Initiatives – West grant from UC Green.
Guffanti joined the effort during its second year.
The sanctuary has mulberries, pines, dogwoods, maples and hollies. The volunteers debate whether to use flowering, seed-producing plants or to increase the tree cover.
“The idea is that we’ll have the perimeter, kind of, vegetated,” Froehling said.
The flower beds are lined with excavated brick and logs from the original site. The volunteers focus on individual sections in the space. Froehling keeps one plot overgrown with seeding plants and weeds. Guffanti breaks up concrete and keeps manicured hostas and bushes.
Bush’s property backs up to a slope at the edge of the space.
“Ideally we could do some more retaining walls and stuff around it, just to stop the erosion,” said Bush, who has lived on Melville Street for more than eight years.
Bird species that have been spotted at the sanctuary include finches, sparrows, pigeons, morning doves, robins, chickadees, hummingbirds, a gray catbird and even a red-tailed hawk.
“We’re functioning on a shoestring budget,” Froehling said. “We can’t really afford to waste too much.”
The volunteers receive a $500 allowance each month from the SHCA, however the allowance does not cover birdseed. According to SHCA, the sanctuary requires 25 pounds each of sunflower seeds and cracked corn mix every month.
“As it is, we don’t have enough money to keep the bird feeders filled all year-round,” Froehling said.
Froehling and Bush send occasional emails to neighbors about cleanups but little response is generated.
School groups have visited the sanctuary. Some people bring their dogs as well.
“There is a mixed benefit of having people come back,” Froehling said. “There has been a little bit of vandalism, not too much.”
Litter and small amounts of marijuana have been found in the space.
“We want it to be kind of human-friendly,” Guffanti said. Even with seed drives and constant work, all three remain uncertain about the site’s future.