Groups combine efforts to spruce up Allentown

Staff Writer

ALLENTOWN – Months after receiving a grant for environmental and aesthetic improvements in Allentown, residents gathered to plant trees in a historic part of the borough.

On Dec. 12, members of the Allentown Environmental Commission, the Allentown High School FFA chapter, Boy Scout Troop 180, the Allentown Lions Club, the Allentown Garden Club and the Allentown Village Initiative, as well as members of the public, planted a weeping cherry tree at an historic cemetery off Lakeview Drive and a pair of sweet gum trees in Heritage Park.

“This cemetery is one of the oldest in Monmouth County and it is composed of people from Allentown and Upper Freehold Township who lived as early as pre-colonial times,” Allentown Village Initiative Vice President Ann Garrison said.

Garrison said the cemetery is multi-denominational, as it was near a meeting house where Baptists, Methodists and Episcopalians gathered. The meeting house was used as a makeshift stable by British forces during the Revolutionary War, she said.

Officials said the landscaping plan for the project was created by Carla Lebentritt, who is a member of the Allentown Garden Club.

To pay for the work, the Allentown Environmental Commission applied for a $750 grant from the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions earlier in the year.

Although the grant amount may not seem substantial, Allentown Environmental Commission Chairman Greg Westfall said the funding was “enough to do something.”

“There is a committee that has been meeting about the cemetery over the last few months,” Westfall said. “This is just the first piece of what they hope to do at the cemetery.”

Westfall said the committee has been charged with documenting all of Allentown’s open space and has been involved in numerous applications over the years, including the creation of the perimeter trail and a restoration of Heritage Park.

The new trees provide positive changes to the area, according to Westfall, including improved shade and cleaner air, reducing storm water runoff and creating habitats for wildlife.

Westfall said he was proud of the work the assembled group of borough organizations was able to accomplish.

“People in Allentown are very community minded and the groups that helped are good examples of that,” said Westfall, who is the borough’s mayor-elect.

Garrison said the effort meshed with the Allentown Village Initiative’s mission “to build on our assets, and our assets are historical and natural in nature. The more we can do to enhance those historical areas and the natural beauty of the place, the more visitors we will have to our downtown and the more it will encourage the people in Allentown to walk around and see these things.”

Westfall said that as mayor, he hopes to encourage the community’s involvement with similar projects.

“Volunteerism is important and that is one of the things I want to encourage,” he said. “All of these groups make Allentown a better place to live.”