The W Rockland St Project

What one Philadelphia city block can do to change its future.

Garden Party in the Lot Formerly Known As Vacant


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W Rockland wins two awards in Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Gardens Contest!

Recently we received a letter in the mail from The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. It didn’t look like it was about membership (we are members!). We tore it open to find that W Rockland Street had won two prizes in PHS’s annualCity Gardens Contest, which gives Philadelphians recognition for their “dedicated and imaginative gardening skills.” Go W Rockland Street!

We’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of greening the neighborhood, with the recent murder on W Rockland Street in mind. Read on for a look at the PHS honors and our thoughts on crime and urban gardening in Philadelphia.

Beans!

2nd Place: COMMUNITY GARDEN COMBINATION

The Rockland Street Community Garden was awarded Second Prize in the Community Garden Combination category for first-year community gardens with both vegetables and flowers. This is a big achievement for the block and all the residents and volunteers that helped to transform the long-neglected vacant lot into an urban garden and gathering space. Located at 15 W Rockland at the top of the block, the garden is home to 13 raised garden beds (lucky number!), a melon and climbing vine patch, a compost bin, a floral garden, and jungle gym for kids. We broke ground and built this space on April 16, 2012 during the 4th annual Philly Spring Cleanup (learn more about the project), and its been growing and evolving ever since. One thing to note! We don’t own this land, but we transformed the eyesore anyway.

Here’s what the judges said:

“The garden has a colorfully inviting entrance and neatly laid out raised beds inside with a space set aside for socializing. It is clearly meeting its mission of creating community through horticulture. Impressive that this community has come together to build a garden on an abandoned lot. A credit to the garden creators!”

A look at W Rockland Street projects and events

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Building a Park on W Rockland Street during the Philly Spring Cleanup

By Emaleigh | W Rockland Street’s Philly Spring Cleanup project on April 14, 2012 marked the block’s 4th year participating in the citywide initiative. It was a great success and we have a lot to report! View a full gallery of photos from the day on Flickr!

THE MISSION!

The goal of our Philly Spring Cleanup project was to transform one (of several) underutilized vacant lots on W Rockland St into a community garden and shared outdoor space for block residents. The plan was to create a place people want to be by turning the lot into a functional park-like environment, offering a permanent space for socializing and gardening. The lot we chose to work with is located near the top of the block at 15 W Rockland. For the past few years, block residents have maintained this abandoned lot but not without a struggle. Despite efforts, the lot often became overgrown and litter remained an issue. In order to be transformed, the lot had to become a functional space for positive activity. Earlier in the year, Ainé drew up plans for this space and it’s really exciting to see her sketches take shape.

It’s a jungle in there… Before conditions, photographed on April 6, 2012

THE ACTION!

Cutting wood for the garden beds.

To make this project happen, we worked with block residents, neighbors that we have connected with from nearby blocks, volunteers from the DePaul Catholic School (which is located on Logan and W Rockland Streets), and a crew from Home Depot.

Together, we cleared the lot of all trash and debris, dug-up huge sheets of underlying plastic (likely installed to prevent weed growth; it didn’t work!), pulled what felt like fields of weeds, cut back all overgrowth, pruned tree branches, leveled the ground, and built 10 wooden garden beds.

Hard at work in the lot. Team effort.

W Rockland St improvement projects tend to turn into a party. With all the kids involved, our group of volunteers swelled to over 40 people. We owe a huge thanks to Home Depot, whose team was spearheaded by employees from store #4109 in Cheltenham and others. Home Depot also generously donated nearly all of the lumber used for the project.

G’Town Restoration CDC connected the different Germantown groups participating in the Philly Spring Cleanup and delivered snacks for all our volunteers. This project would not have been possible without candy-colored donuts. Seriously. The organization also introduced us to Robyn Tevah, who came by to help out and teach kids about plants.

8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass talks with volunteers on W Rockland Street.

Throughout the day, we had visitors stop by to see what we were up to, including 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, members of Germantown United CDC‘s board, and plenty of friends and family. I don’t think we would have actually succeeded in finishing building the garden beds if our Dad and Alex – master of the drill – didn’t show-up ready to work!

WHYY’s NewsWorks sent a reporter and you can see the story here: A garden emerges from Rockland Street’s weekend-cleanup effort. It’s pretty awesome to read quotes from our neighbors, expressing excitement about the project.

“When I see the kids playing in this area, I worry about their safety,” said Charles Pullett as he helped pull trash from the lot. “Today makes me very excited to live here.”

We built 10 raised garden beds and plan to add 3 more!

As part of W Rockland St’s Philly Spring Cleanup efforts, residents also spruced up their properties and gave the block a clean sweep from top to bottom. The City of Philadelphia and the Streets Department provided us with plenty of supplies to help make our project a success. We distributed work gloves, brooms, rakes, bags and even new recycling bins to participants.

At the end of the day, 10 garden beds were built and the majority of the overgrown lot was cleared. A few days later, two truckloads of mushroom soil arrived, coordinated by the great Sally McCabe at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Turns out, we need more dirt! Who would have thought?

NEXT STEPS FOR THE GARDEN

We’re still working on completing the evolving garden and hope to have all the main features installed by mid-May.

Many residents have already begun planting and are enjoying the new community space. We plan to build 3 additional garden beds, bringing the total number to lucky 13. Next step is seating! We have several benches in place already, which were donated to W Rockland St from Keep Philadelphia Beautiful last year. We’ll add picnic benches and other seating (including pallet chairs!) just in time for the summer months.

Dude, this bench was made of 3,800 recycled plastic bags. Thanks Keep Philadelphia Beautiful!

Students from Mount St. Mary’s University help us tackle the back of the lot on April 21, 2012.

One major problem that still needs solving is establishing a sustainable water source for our growing garden. We’re looking into installing new gutters to the neighboring house, attached to rain barrels. The good thing is that the rain barrels are already secured through the Energy Coordinating Agency and Philadelphia Water Department. Now we just have to raise funds for the gutter installation.

The weekend after the big cleanup project, a team of students from Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland traveled to Philadelphia and spent a full-day helping to clear out the back-end of the lot, including removing some pesky poison ivy that had overtaken the area. The space is now ready for finishing touches. The students, who were repaid with kindness and water ice, came to W Rockland St by way of our friends at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, located at the corner on Greene Street between W Rockland and Logan. We have worked on W Rockland St with groups on service-learning trips from many East Coast states, through out partnership with St. Francis.

FUTURE PROJECTS

We’re moving right along to our next big effort, which is to build a large community garden on the vacant lot that spans three properties at the corner of W Rockland and Greene Streets. This garden will be open to all SW Germantown residents, with 25-30 garden beds and an outdoor learning space.  It is a joint project of Rockland Street Neighbors and the DePaul Catholic School, which is located across the street from the lot.

Future community garden at the corner of W Rockland and Greene Streets.

Neighbors on W Rockland have worked to maintain this area for the past several years, keeping the space clear of illegal dumping. Just last May, two abandoned houses stood in this very space (at 4817 and 4815 Greene St). W Rockland St residents aggressively advocated having the blighted properties torn down. In June 2011, the buildings were demolished after Mayor Michael Nutter paid a surprise visit to W Rockland St to check out the Grow This Block! garden project, which he read about in a story by Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron.

We postponed the start of this project because of landscaping complications. The lot is sloped and will need to be terraced or require a retaining wall. We’re currently looking to work with skilled contractors and landscape professionals, and build other partnerships that will be crucial in helping transform this highly visible corner-space for the greater Germantown community.

Stay tuned for more updates.

If you’re interested in collaborating with us, email rocklandstreet@gmail.com!

OH, AND SEE MORE PHOTOS

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View a full gallery of photos from the day on Flickr!


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Pomp and Circumstance and Pride: W Rockland Street in PMBC’s Clean Block Contest

PMBC judges and block residents listen to Emaleigh talk about the block's history and recent accomplishments.

By Ainé and Emaleigh | The recycling and trash was picked up early. Then came the voices of everyone on the block, as neighbors worked together on finishing touches to prepare W Rockland Street for judgement day. You see, W Rockland Street is one of thirty blocks across the city in this year’s Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee’s (PMBC) Clean Block Contest and is a contender for the PMBC Neighborhood Transformation Award for Beautification Projects. In the annual contest, blocks are judged on beautification, cleanliness, property improvements and perhaps the most important, the efforts and participation level of the block residents. Let’s say that last part again: The efforts and participation level of block residents. And that, means everything.

On October 4, we awoke to the sounds of chatter and brooms everywhere. Sweep. Sweep. Sweep. Balloons were tied to fences, homemade signs hung up, a tent was pitched and cakes, drinks and lots of food hit the tables (and the grills). As the afternoon came, sirens blared and a police escort ushered in the PMBC trolley and a caravan of city vehicles. The judges had arrived! With 50+ new guests on the scene, W Rockland Street came alive.

Our junior block captain Marianna, home from school early, did not miss a beat grabbing the mic and welcoming the crowd. We gave a presentation overviewing W Rockland Street’s accomplishments this past year. Then the judges walked the block and talked with neighbors about their work and community. The atmosphere was like a birthday party. Celebratory. Lots of conversation and spirit. When the judges departed, we decided to keep the block closed off for the rest of the afternoon, as kids played in the street, neighbors talked in groups and the cook-out continued.

Winners for PMBC’s contest will be announced in November. Good luck to W Rockland Street and congratulations to all of the blocks nominated!

It just so happens, we have some family competition in the mix. Our brother Michael Ardron and the 1800 Block of South Napa Street are also in the running. Michael is the President of The Greater Grays Ferry Estates Homeowners Association (GGFE-HOA). We hope he doesn’t win. Kidding, kidding.

PMBC is part of the City of Philadelphia’s Streets Department. Learn more about it!

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Cucumbers, string beans, tomatoes and peppers, oh my!

Marianna, our mom, Zhontay and Yasmine. Mom is super popular when she visits!

It’s August. It’s hot. The veggie crops are growing. W Rockland Street residents planted a huge variety of flowers, shrubs, veggies, herbs and fruit during the first ever Grow This Block! project in May and now everyone is tasting the rewards.

We’ll be adding photos of the growing gardens and mini-farms in this gallery on Flickr as the season continues: Growing W Rockland Street: Grow This Block! Results

Here, some of the best kid gardeners – Marianna, Yasmine and Zhontay – pose with crops from the block.

Measuring!

Yasmine harvesting crops planted during Grow This Block!


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“When neighbors are trying to make something happen, we, the city, have to meet them halfway.” – Mayor Nutter

The Philadelphia Inquirer published a follow-up story surrounding our Memorial Day weekend kick-off of Grow This Block!, reporting on the Mayor’s visit to W Rockland Street and the current demolition of the abandoned houses located at the corner of W Rockland and Greene Streets: Sisters persuade Nutter to move up demolition of derelict houses (read the story on the Inquirer’s website or below).

Over the last few weeks, Aine and I have seen a tremendous response to the community improvement efforts we’re working to implement in our Germantown neighborhood. We’re both completely ecstatic about this lastest turn of events, humbled by all the emails and comments we have received from readers living in Philadelphia and beyond, and truly excited about the future of our block and what will happen next. ~ Emaleigh and Aine  

Philly.com homepage earlier today, June 7, 2011 (home of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News). So exciting!

“When neighbors are trying to make something happen, we, the city, have to meet them halfway.”
- Michael A. Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia

Sisters persuade Nutter to move up demolition of derelict houses
The Philadelphia Inquirer
By INGA SAFFRON | Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Every day for the last 20 years, the Doley sisters were taunted by the same neighborhood menace: a pair of abandoned houses on the corner of their Germantown block. No matter how many times they complained to City Hall, the eyesores remained as fixed and immutable as the points on a compass.

That changed Monday.

A backhoe clawed at the remains of the two derelict buildings at Rockland and Greene Streets, sweeping their scorched bricks and rotting timbers into a neat pile. The Department of Licenses and Inspections had been dispatched on the personal order of Mayor Nutter, who read in an Inquirer story about the Doleys’ effort to improve West Rockland.

“We’re so relieved,” said Ainé Doley, 34, who was a teenager when the first of the two was rendered uninhabitable by fire. “The workers told us one of the houses was leaning badly and could have collapsed any day.”

Although neighbors have been filing complaints about the houses – one owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the other by a defunct church – for nearly 20 years, it took a campaign by the Doleys to get the city’s attention. The Doleys – Ainé and Emaleigh, 27 – organized a series of cleanups this last year, which they chronicled on rocklandstreet.com.

Then, on May 29, an Inquirer story about a blockwide planting day caught Nutter’s eye on his way to the gym.

“I said to myself, ‘Let me take a detour and see what’s going on,’ ” Nutter recounted.

Ainé Doley took Nutter on a block tour, showing him the derelict houses. He said, “We’re going to help your block.”

Sure enough, a surveying crew showed up a few days later. On Friday, demolition crews started work.

Nutter said the pair was on a list of buildings to be demolished with federal stimulus money, but he intervened to make them a priority. “When neighbors are trying to make something happen, we, the city, have to meet them halfway,” he said.

The Doley sisters met Monday with DePaul Catholic School officials to discuss building a library. In the interim, they plan to install raised beds for a community garden.


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BREAKING NEWS: The blighted houses at 4817 and 4815 Greene Street at the corner of W Rockland will be torn down effective immediately!

One orange shirt. Two orange shirts. A white shirt. Jeans. Quite a few folks. People that aren’t our neighbors. A few pickup trucks and cars. There’s a crowd growing in our vacant lot on the corner of Greene and W Rockland Street. Some have surveying equipment. Down to the lot. Down to the lot. We have to get down to the lot. Pause while we hold our collective breath. The decree is in. The Mayor of Philadelphia wasn’t kidding when he said, “We are going to help your block.” The blighted houses at 4817 and 4815 Greene Street will be torn down effective immediately! The work is scheduled to start tomorrow afternoon on Friday, June 2, 2011. Yes, the Nutter administration gets it in on weekends!

For years now, these two abandoned houses have towered over our Germantown neighborhood, looking down on passersby with shattered windows and gaping holes. Overtime, the three-story properties became the site of illegal dumping, drug use and vagrant activity and also a lovely home for a growing population of neighborhood raccoons.

A photo taken of the blighted properties during our Philly Spring Cleanup efforts in 2009.

These houses have long plagued our community. Their history dates back many, many years. The properties were destroyed by a raging fire over 20 years ago (we think). The third house, now the vacant corner lot W Rockland Street residents have been working to maintain, was annihilated by flames and leveled long ago. The exact date of the fire is unknown. It’s impact, incorrigible.  The original property owners of all three houses, long gone.

City staff surveying the blighted properties on Greene St at the corner of W Rockland on June 2, 2011

It’s believed that ownership transferred at some point. The 4815 property is listed as being owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) in Philadelphia Revenue Department records. Still, the buildings stood. Year after year. Untouched, rotting figures in our urban landscape. A daily reminder of the urban decay that manifests in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.
Neighbors have been persistent. Over the years, we have called the city and Licences & Inspection to get these homes at the very least boarded up, at best demolished. We made some progress in the last year with L&I and the Managing Director’s Office. The first floor of the houses were boarded up. Graffiti was painted over. The overgrown yards, cleared. Now what we’ve all been waiting for. The buildings are coming down.
Thank you Mayor Michael Nutter! Thank you W Rockland Street!
Please stay tuned for more information about the demolition of these properties.They say what goes up must come down. Well, what goes down, must come up. We will waste no time in working on collaborating with the community at large to transform this space!
Ainé and Emaleigh


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Grow This Block! makes The Philadelphia Inquirer

Grow This Block! was a HUGE success thanks to all involved. Here are a few photos from the day. We’ll be writing more about how the day went later this week and posting a full gallery of photos.

You may have seen that our project was featured in the Sunday edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer today! It’s a marvelous story!

Read it on Philly.com, or below.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Two sisters seek to salvage their Germantown block
By INGA SAFFRON | Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Doley sisters know there is a lot wrong with their Germantown block that they can’t fix. They’ve been waiting most of their lives – 20 years, to be exact – for the city to tear down two burned-out houses on a corner. They accept that no one is coming out anytime soon to fix the block’s heaving sidewalks, which look as if they sit atop a seismic fault, or to clear trash from the empty lots where homes of childhood friends used to stand.

But if Aine and Emaleigh Doley can’t make West Rockland Street what it once was, they figure they can at least plant flowers.

While others lounged at the Shore Saturday or went for long bicycle rides on Kelly Drive, the two sisters were turning earth and carting flats of impatiens with their Rockland Street neighbors in a determined effort to beautify a little piece of struggling Germantown.

All week, the Doley sisters had been talking up the project, which they billed as “Grow This Block,” and to their delight several dozen neighbors came out at 8 a.m., ready to pitch in.

“I know nothing about gardening, but I got one of their fliers, and here I am,” Sharry Harper said as she raked mushroom compost across the postage-stamp-size lawn of her stone rowhouse in preparation for planting.

A few houses down, Marsha Lewis was arranging a hosta in the center of a daisy-shaped planting bed. Her teenage sons had formed the fanciful pattern with pink scallop edging blocks, and she was busy filling in the spaces with “a little bit of everything.”

The front of the Doleys’ house needed no such special treatment. It was already overflowing with jumbo peonies, budding hydrangeas, and romantically curved brick paths. Emaleigh, 27, was quick to credit Aine, 34, as the one with the green thumb.

But the blockwide gardening marathon was a combined effort.

After finishing college – Aine at Temple, Emaleigh at George Washington University – the sisters gravitated back to West Rockland Street while they pursued careers in public relations and marketing. The sad state of their old block pained them so, they decided to use their promotional and organizational skills to see if they could make it better.

“People were always coming to Aine for gardening advice, so we thought, ‘Why not organize a planting day?’ ” Emaleigh Doley said.

They began laying the groundwork for the neighborhood effort earlier this spring when they declared themselves “co-block captains” and participated in Philadelphia’s annual cleanup day. With neighbors, they cleared the vacant lot at Greene Street – the one next to the burned-out houses – which was knee-deep in trash and dog waste.

Being in public relations, they have been chronicling it all on a website (http://rocklandstreet.com/). “What one Philadelphia city block can do to change its future,” boasts a subtitle.

West Rockland Street is a lot different from when the Doley sisters were kids – more renters, more empty lots, more of the usual intractable urban problems. Since the recession hit, several of the five-bedroom houses have been foreclosed and cut up into apartments. More people are unemployed.

Those are also problems the sisters know they can’t fix. “But we’re hoping this gardening will give people a new stake in the block,” said Emaleigh. “It’s another conversation starter.

Some Rockland Street residents have always tended their front lawns meticulously, and magnificent rosebushes stand sentinel at the sidewalk. Others, Emaleigh said, lacked basic gardening tools.

For Saturday’s event, the sisters tapped their contacts for donations. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society delivered a truckload of compost, which was dumped on the cleared corner lot. The Hansberry Garden and Nature Center, a few blocks away, offered plants at a discount. In preparation for the event, Aine grew hundreds of seedlings.

By midafternoon, Rockland Street’s drab stone houses were bursting with color. “Our goals now,” said Emaleigh, “are to find a way to get new sidewalks. And street trees. There used to be big trees up and down the block.”

And after that, she said, looking wistfully in the direction of the burned-out houses at Greene Street, “maybe we can get these two torn down.”


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48 days since the Philly Spring Cleanup and…

It’s Friday, May 20, a full 48 days since the Philly Spring Cleanup and the vacant lot that used to hold mattresses, hundreds of bags of dog poop (don’t ask), 40 ounce malt liquor bottles, construction debris and tons of other waste – remains litter free. Hooray!

The block itself continues to be pretty trashy unfortunately, yet the lot remains clean. The Philadelphia Daily News recently reported that several of the Philly Spring Cleanups’ biggest project sites made a fast return to disgusting. The report is appalling but not surprising. What’s wrong, Philadelphia? The concept of putting your garbage where it belongs just doesn’t seem like that difficult of a task one has to navigate. Stupid is as stupid does.

Why are we such pigs? Cleanups, education are failures – we ARE Filthy-delphia
Philadelphia Daily News
By DAVID FOSTER | Monday, March 18, 2011

ABOUT 100 VOLUNTEERS, joined by Mayor Nutter, got a little sweaty fighting grime as they raked, swept and painted at the Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center, in North Philadelphia, to make it sparkle during the 2011 Philly Spring Cleanup on April 2.

Four days later, the center again had become a dumping ground, with more than 10 bags of trash, plastic bottles and a garbage-filled cardboard box lining the black, wrought-iron fence outside the center.

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Germantown Community Meeting Recap

Germantown Community Meeting

The Germantown Community Meeting (our first!) held on March 21 was a great success with around 75 residents in attendance and a full roster of informative City officials at the podium. The meeting was long and informative. Residents got to ask lots of questions and their concerns ran the gamut, from what do about a crossing guard that sits down on the job (at the intersection of Greene and Logan – look out for her!) to illegal dumping, vacant properties,  crime and drug houses.

Emaleigh Doley with Carlton Williams, Deputy Commissioner of Philadelphia Streets Department

Emaleigh Doley with Carlton Williams

Lots of residents got to sign up and receive instant Recycling Rewards stickers courtesy of SWEEP! With so much to discuss, we quickly learned that having 5 speakers at one event is too many and next time, we plan to hone in on a topic or two and have themed meetings.

There were several media outlets in the house and quite a few articles were published about the meeting and the concerns of Germantown residents.

A big thank you goes out to Giovanni’s Pizzeria (5604 Greene Street, 215-842-9480) for the pies, Father Gene Sheridan and St. Francis of Assisi for the meeting space and all of our speakers:

  • Carlton Williams, Deputy Commissioner of Philadelphia Streets Department
  • Philly311 Contact Center Director Rosetta Lue
  • Christopher Fields, SWEEP
  • Officer Keys, Community Relations Officer for the 39th District, Philadelphia Police Department
  • Maurice Sampson II, Chair of RecycleNOW

To find out how to contact any of our speakers and the different City departments represented at our meeting, read on.

Philadelphia Streets Department
www.philadelphiastreets.com
http://potholes.phila.gov/csstreets
Yes, the Streets Department has two websites. And yes, they contain different and valuable information. On the second site, you can fill out online reports about everything from potholes to sanitation complaints to requesting a street cleaning or reporting that your trash wasn’t picked up!

UnLitterus
www.philadelphiastreets.com/unlitter-us-intro.aspx

SWEEP
www.philadelphiastreets.com/sweep.aspx

ReycleNOW
www.recyclenowphila.org

Philly 311
www.phila.gov/311

Community Relations Department – 39th District
www.phillypolice.com/districts/39th


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W Rockland Street makes front-page news in the Germantown Chronicle!

A photo from the Philly Spring Cleanup on W Rockland Street is featured on the cover of the April 15, 2010 edition of the Germantown Chronicle newspaper!

Click here to download a PDF of the full newspaper (6.70MB)

The Germantown Chronicle

West Rockland Street residents (left to right) Jayda Peart, 6; Jamya Felder, 4; and Indiya Briscoe, 5, had to be among the youngest participants in Germantown during the 3rd Annual Philly Spring Cleanup on Saturday, April 10. They were joined by scores of others who turned out to spruce up their neighborhoods all over the Northwest. Photo by Emaleigh Doley.

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