Restoring Levittown to its cleaner days

GOAL president Dale Frazier (left) and board member Ed Armstrong stand next to discarded tires at a Levittown site. Frazier estimates that the organization has removed 35 tons of debris, 700 tires.
GOAL president Dale Frazier (left) and board member Ed Armstrong stand next to discarded tires at a Levittown site. Frazier estimates that the organization has removed 35 tons of debris, 700 tires. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 18, 2012

Growing up in lower Bucks County in the 1960's, Dale Frazier had a blast playing in the woods and vast fields near his home on the outskirts of Levittown, one of America's first single-home developments.

Frazier moved away as an adult, but in his childhood memories, the community was forever young, clean, and thriving. So after living in other parts of the county and the country, he moved back, settling seven years ago in the Farmwood section with his wife and daughter.

Levittown was not as he remembered.

Suburban decay was setting in. By 2009, as he walked Buddy, his beefy Jack Russell terrier, around the neighborhood, he was seeing pile after pile of junk, and trash blowing like tumbleweed across the planted spaces, or greenbelts, that separated sections.

He would stop, pick up the litter, and get angry.

"People just didn't seem to care much about it," Frazier, 56, said.

Back problems forced him into early retirement, so the former auto body technician found himself with time on his hands. He decided to use it to spruce up his hometown.

Frazier formed the Greenbelt Overhaul Alliance of Levittown (GOAL) in Spring 2009, and set out to build a network of volunteers to tackle the trash, plant trees, and clean up the creeks and streams that had become clogged with detritus.

Since then, Frazier estimates, the organization has removed 35 tons of debris, 700 tires, and a stunning array of junk - shopping carts, lawn mowers, a bathtub, old sofas, even a homemade still - from woods and waterways in the four municipalities comprising Levittown: parts of Bristol, Falls and Middletown Townships, and Tullytown Borough.

The volunteers have planted more than 1,000 trees and shrubs, and acres of wildflowers. The group also sponsors environmental classes for local school students and residents, and helps establish community gardens.

The organization gets by with gifts, donated Dumpsters, and a few grants for landscape projects. Frazier is thinking about having a fund-raiser in the summer.

"We've gotten some things done," he said, looking out over Magnolia Lake in Bristol Township and recalling the two-day cleanup last year that drew 92 volunteers. "It just shows you what a small group of determined people can make happen."

The lake and surrounding woods were littered with bottles and cans, and basketballs, soccer balls and other sports paraphernalia. "It looked like a sporting goods store," recalled Frazier, who said the group will be back to do more cleanup at the lake in April.

Sixties-era Levittown was a much different place than it is today, Frazier said.

Starting in 1951 on 22 square miles, Levittown was built as a mecca for America's young dreamers aspiring to ownership of a single home with a yard. Developer William Levitt foresaw a community of cookie-cutter homes and sidewalks, schools and churches, shopping centers and swimming pools, and lots of open space.

"His plan was for a garden community," Frazier said, "and there's not much in the way of garden left."

Ed Armstrong, a Tullytown Borough councilman, recalled Frazier showing up at a municipal meeting one night in 2009 and asking the council to support what Armstrong then considered an almost futile effort.

"Other people have tried this and failed," Armstrong remembered thinking.

But soon, he changed his mind.

"Watching the enthusiasm [Frazier] had just blew me away," recalled Armstrong, now Frazier's self-described "right arm" and a board member of GOAL, which has become a not-for-profit organization.

Armstrong grew up in the Holly Hill section of Levittown, catching snakes and tadpoles in the clear waters of Black Ditch Creek.

But during a cleanup in 2009, Armstrong saw what became of it. He watched in horror as a bike was pulled out, then a lawn mower, a truck axle, and, even more surprisingly, a motorcycle.

At the end of some cleanups, awards are handed out - for the dirtiest volunteer, the strangest discovery, for the most senior member of the crew. Local restaurants donate food, so volunteers can sit down together before heading home.

That, in fact, is the secret of their success, Frazier and Armstrong say: creating an atmosphere in which neighbors can have fun together and leave feeling they've accomplished something.

Mary Jones, a 19-year-old freshman at Lock Haven University, was a senior at Harry S. Truman High School when she first worked a cleanup. The day was exhausting, as she helped pull an air conditioner, a couch and several shopping carts from the creek.

"Disgusting," she called it.

But she was hooked.

For graduation, Jones worked with GOAL for her community service project. She now is the youngest board member.

"It's kind of overwhelming at times, the amount of work that goes into it," she said. "But I feel like I am making a huge difference."


Contact staff writer

Emilie Lounsberry at elounsberry@phillynews.com.

See more at the Greenbelt Overhaul Alliance of Levittown website at http://ltowngoal.com/

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