Coal used in landscaping on Mulberry Street medians


Jul. 20—SCRANTON — What a sight to see anthracite coal decorate medians on Mulberry Street.

Scranton Tomorrow, the nonprofit organization that leads economic development efforts downtown, recently installed black coal and brown mulch to spruce up the median islands in the 100, 200 and 300 blocks of Mulberry Street, between the Mulberry Street bridge and Wyoming Avenue.

The organization adopted the median islands several years ago from the state Department of Transportation and maintains their landscaping, said Scranton Tomorrow President/CEO Leslie Collins.

With the medians sandwiched between multiple lanes of heavy traffic, maintenance involving mulching, resoiling and planting flowers has not necessarily been easy, she said. Winter also brings challenges of snow plowed up on medians and road salt eating away at plants.

“Because of where the islands are and the amount of traffic, and in winters, it’s really been a difficult task to maintain the islands,” Collins said.

Steve Ward, who leads Scranton Tomorrow’s Downtown Safe, Clean & Green Ambassador Team, came up with the idea to use coal as decorative landscaping in the medians.

Ward, who previously worked as a coordinator in the Penn State Extension Master Gardener Program, said he never used coal in landscaping before.

“We wanted to redo the islands,” Ward said. “We tried all different ways to make it look nice and stay nice. We planted annuals, but it’s just too hard of a location, an unsafe location, for people to work there regularly. We wanted to do something that was sustainable, one-and-done for a couple years, and looks nice and distinctive.”

Crushed stone would work well but is ubiquitous, he said. Given the coal mining history of the city and region, Ward suggested using coal. It would both fit the bill for hardiness and pay homage to the miners of long ago.

“This is my way of saying thanks for all their hard work,” Ward said.

He visited Agel Coal Co. in Scranton to review sizes of broken anthracite and chose chestnut, a medium chunky size, for the median landscaping.

The landscaping was done in June.

Coal might be seen by some as an unusual landscaping choice. “It’s also very durable and beautiful. Even at night, any bit of light it picks up and it sparkles,” Ward said.

One of the medians also has a strip of perennials — black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers — planted within the bed of coal that will provide a splash of bright colors.

“It will be a couple of years before they get established,” Ward said. “They do really well in dry, hot environments, so they’ll be nice next year.”

Some motorists and pedestrians who have noticed the coal have given it positive reviews, he said.

“People have commented that it looks nice,” Ward said, adding that some passersby may not even know that it’s coal.

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