CENTRALIA, COLUMBIA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – Dozens of people came together Saturday to beautify a local place known as a ghost town. Centralia was abandoned slowly over time after a coal fire spread through the mines below.
That fire is still burning, but volunteers are determined to make the ground above a better place.
“It was a nice little town at one time. It really was,” said Judy Brown of Ashland.
People from Columbia County and neighboring Schuylkill and Luzerne Counties spent their Saturday planting 100 apple trees in Centralia.
“It’s part of a greater ecological restoration effort where we’re giving out apple trees throughout the Appalachian community,” said Laura Rinehimer, Environmental Education Coordinator for the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
Residents of Centralia slowly abandoned the town after fire ripped through the abandoned coal mines beneath the surface in 1962. That fire caused the town to close due to unsafe carbon monoxide levels. It’s still burning to this day but with low risk.
But then came another problem: curious crowds who littered everywhere. Rinehimer says there have been cleanup events for the last seven years to try and make the area clean again.
“It’s amazing to see an area that was kind of disrespected by humans to now come in full circle. You don’t see much trash here anymore,” said Rinehimer.
That’s why the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, or EPCAMER, decided to plant the apple trees, in an effort to beautify the area once again. A former Mrs. Luzerne County tells me she is volunteering in hopes to teach her son an important lesson about the environment.
“I’m hoping that he understands that it takes us to take action in order to protect wildlife, to protect the earth. And right now the state that things are in with global warming, I’m trying to explain to him what we can do to combat that,” said Sarah Dombroski, Mrs. Luzerne County 2018.
Volunteers tell me coming out to plant these apple trees helps them feel closer to their ancestors.
“I have family members that were buried here. And just remember the town as it was as I was growing up and visiting, coming through here,” said Brown.
Organizing staff say they plan to hold more planting events in the future.