More than 100 Penn State Master Gardeners, including some from Franklin County, arrived at the National Park Service Flight 93 National Memorial on August 17, 2023, for a day of service and luncheon program. The Memorial was built to commemorate the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, which was one of four aircraft hijacked during the September 11 attacks in 2001. The memorial is located in Somerset County and is part of the U.S. National Park Service.
The Memorial Plaza Wall of Names. The field beyond is the crash site. NPS/Chuck Wagner
Park Superintendent Stephen M. Clark spoke at the luncheon and gave a brief history of the park. He noted that Penn State arborists were enlisted immediately after the crash to help recover debris in tall trees at the crash site. Originally the crash site was preserved and only open to victims’ family members. In 2015 the Visitor Center was opened to the public as part of a permanent site to honor the 40 passengers and crew who stopped the terrorists.
Brenda Wasler, natural resource manager of the park, noted that “of the five parks in Western Pennsylvania this is number one for maintenance needs because it is a newer park.” There is maintenance needed in a variety of habitats such as the large meadows and grassland areas as well as forestland.
Working near the Memorial Plaza
Mulching trees near the Plaza
In 2021, in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the crash, local supporters responded to the difficulty of maintaining the park by appealing to the Penn State Master Gardeners program. Master Gardeners came together to work under the guidance of Wasler. This day of service has become an annual event as the Master Gardeners have now been joined by Penn State alumni.
Val Sesler, organizer of the annual events, commented, “As we commemorate the fallen heroes of Flight 93 for the third time in 2023, I am still amazed by the willingness of Master Gardeners from all across Pennsylvania to give so generously of their time and to use their skills to beautify the Memorial Plaza. The Master Gardeners are honored to lend their expertise for such a sacred place.”
Master Gardener Fran Lopinsky, from Beaver County said, “As I reflect on my first experience working at the Flight 93 Memorial, I realize what an honor it is to participate in this project and believe we are meant to be there.”
Annette Spry, Carol Kagan, and Tobias Kagan from Franklin County made the trip to the Memorial, toting shovel, pruners, and other garden tools. They helped with registration and a variety of garden maintenance work.
Annette Spry, Franklin County Master Gardener
Spry came ready to work with her tools and said she volunteered because she likes meeting and working with other Master Gardeners, and this is a special place. The Kagans came as they wanted to contribute to the service day and visit the memorial. “We appreciated the opportunity to assist the Park Service in making this Memorial a beautiful place for visitors. The landscape design includes 40 groves of 40 trees to honor those that lost their lives, honors the sacrifices made and courageous actions of the passengers.”
Other leaders from the program joined Erin McKinley, State Master Gardener Coordinator to work beside Master Gardeners from a variety of counties in the state. She said, “At face value, volunteering at Flight 93 might not sound like a traditional Master Gardener project but the meaning behind the memorial speaks to our hearts and core mission of volunteerism: that the 40 ordinary people – complete strangers –worked together at no personal gain to themselves, to save thousands of lives. It is an immense honor to use our unique skills as Master Gardeners to serve at the memorial.”
Picture 5 Caption: Master Gardener Program Leaders
“What was not surprising to me was the 110% effort on the part of all the volunteers who pitched in and performed the various gardening tasks that needed to be done,” Sesler noted. “Seeing the results of all our hard work was very satisfying.”