With hundreds of plants in hand, a group of military veterans took to the banks of Coopers Run in Colerain Township Wednesday morning, with a goal of stabilizing its banks.
Hoping to get their work done in just a few hours, their plan was to install more than 500 plants, which included shrubs and trees, along a portion of the stream that runs through 10 acres in the Kirkwood area.
There, owner Sara Hodgkiss was leading the environmental conservation project on land she’s dubbed Woerth It Hollow — a nonprofit horse rescue, which she has opened to veterans and people with disabilities, who receive therapeutic benefits while interacting with the animals, she said.
“It gives people a chance to learn about horses,” she said, explaining she specifically wanted to target veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Often, they can relate to the horses, many of which were rescued from difficult situations, she said.
Hodgkiss, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, grew up on the land, where her parents — the Woerths for whom “Woerth Hollow” is named — worked to transform the property decades earlier.
In 2013, Hodgkiss took ownership of the property, and by 2017, it was a registered nonprofit, and her horse rehabilitation and veteran work were underway, she said.
“It was not something I had grown up doing. There has been a lot to learn,” she said.
Hodgkiss now cares for about four to six horses at a time, with about 20 to 30 veterans and their families visiting the property annually.
But Hodgkiss made it clear that she also cares about the land, which pushed her toward the conservation effort — the restoration of Coopers Run, where she said banks were severely eroded and floodwaters washed away previously planted trees.
Those eroded banks have since been restored, Hodgkiss said, along with other conservation efforts.
Working with organizations like the Lancaster County Conservation District, Hodgkiss was able to secure grant funding from multiple sources to cover expenses, she said. She estimated at least $100,000 has been spent.
And Wednesday’s planting was intended to further that work, providing a buffer of native plants along the waterway to further stabilize the banks, while capturing pollutants carried by stormwater, she said.
To complete that work she enlisted the help of local veterans groups — Got Your Six, Warriors on the Water and Lancaster County Veterans Breakfast Club, in addition to other volunteers.
“Everything went perfect,” she said, after the planting had finished.