In Cumberland, the community and forest are inexorably linked. Whether we explore the woods as athletes or artists, educators or explorers, we all find shelter in the shade of her trees, coolness in the lush green ravines, and peace in her silent places. These varied forest experiences are expressed in the unique forest protection efforts of the Cumberland Forest community. These diverse gifts form a beautiful tapestry of place.
We protect the Cumberland Forest by engaging with interests and passions. Sometimes it’s a painting, photograph, song, or giant puppet. Sometimes it’s organizing or participating in an epic running event. Sometimes it’s leading a yoga class in a peaceful hall somewhere in the Village. Sometimes it’s sharing knowledge about bats or bees.
Ultimately, the Cumberland Forest project can be described as an exercise in placemaking. Placemaking is a concept that originated in the 60s by writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs. It focuses on the idea of citizen ownership of space. Placemaking leverages local community assets, talents, inspiration, and potential with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well being.
Placemaking is a collective process of strengthening one’s relationship with place. In doing so it builds community that is deeply attached to its well being. It is creative, active, and sometimes messy. It embraces competing interests and experiences and lays out a process to engage them all.
Attachment to place through placemaking has three key elements: social offerings, openness, and beauty. Social offering is the creation of places and events that foster face-to-face interactions, trust, connection, joy, and an environment where people care deeply for one another. Openness is about defining place that is fully open to diverse people and lifestyles and includes all ages, interests, and abilities. Beauty is about the physical, spiritual, and ecological richness of a place.
Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is adding a critical fourth element to the placemaking concept. Acknowledgment of the indigenous territory and inclusion of the Indigenous peoples in placemaking work is key to the authenticity and success of our efforts. I am so grateful for and humbled by the participation of the K’omoks people in our work.
I have the incredible privilege of being a facilitator of the creativity and generosity of others toward the protection of a very special place. We weave together social offerings with openness and beauty to find the sweet spots where gifts and conservation goals connect and have real impact.
Over the past years, the Cumberland Community Forest Society (CCFS) has embraced the idea of placemaking, though we don’t always use that word to describe it. We work closely with creative and passionate community businesses, organizations, and individuals to achieve our forest protection goals, and in the end we all benefit from our shared attachment to the forest.
The Perseverance Trail Run and The Cumby are two amazing examples of these relationships. These events have played a significant role in deepening community relationships with the forest, engaging hundreds of runners, and raising funds for the CCFS. In turn, we join them and bring food, drink, music, and creative social offerings to these events.
Businesses like Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary, Cumberland Brewing Company, and First Credit Union are also engaging in placemaking. They directly connect with the narrative of the forest and help tell a story about our community through their business activities. They connect the dots between forest, water, village, home, and people. They placemake as part of their business model. They are joined by hundreds of other businesses that share products, services, and proceeds with the forest as a demonstration of their commitment and attachment to place.
Creatives like Fox & Bee, Cathy Stoyko, and the countless artists, performers, filmmakers, and photographers share their talent in a creative approach to placemaking. The Forest Stories Collective features over 50 local performers, including the Kumugwe Cultural Society. They have created two sold-out shows over the past six months, one about Witches of the Woods and another that is all about bears. A spin-off project is now offering a forest themed, after-school theatre program at Cumberland Community School, and a summer camp for kids this coming July. Again, social offering, openness, and beauty are key elements to this initiative.
Our CCFS Science Pub Series is an exciting a new exercise in placemaking. We’re connecting knowledge-holders, elders, and experts with our community to share insight and deepen understanding about topics like land use, pollination, forest ecology, fungus, trees and bats. Add beer from Cumberland Brewing, spirits from Wayward Distillation House, and tea from Harmonic Arts, and the result is a potent social offering. All three Science Pubs have filled to capacity and more are planned for this fall.
Children and families are also central to any placemaking endeavor. Cumberland families open their gardens and homes to the whole community for the annual Home and Garden Tour. They collect donations at birthday parties, make art, and sell cookies, lemonade and fridge magnets for the Forest.
The Cumberland Forest entry in the Victoria Day Parade is one of the sweetest expressions of social offering, openness, and beauty. How can we not fall in love with a merry band of raccoons, forest fairies, marching bands, and a 16-foot bear puppet named Ursula who protects the forest?
I truly believe that a deep abiding connection to place is key to community wellbeing. On behalf of the Cumberland Community Forest Society I extend our profound appreciation to the community who engages our efforts. Together we are redefining place, restoring the commons and re-building a real connection to the land that surround us. This fall we’re set to protect another 200 acres of forest along Perseverance Creek. Every achievement of the CCFS is a reflection of you.
For more information please visit www.cumberlandforest.com