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Chapel Hill and Carrboro encourage community members to 'leave the leaves'

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Leaves sit on the stairs on Raleigh Streeton Monday, Nov. 20, 2023.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are encouraging residents to leave their leaves where they fall this autumn.

The towns are partnering with the New Hope Audubon Society — a local nature conservation organization — to decrease the public safety risks associated with piling leaves in bike lanes and sidewalks while saving time and money and recycling nutrients in the local ecosystem. The "Leave Your Leaves" campaign promotes letting leaves remain where they fall, rather than piling them on the side of the road.

Barbara Driscoll, president of the New Hope Audubon Society, said she started the program in 2020 after petitioning the Town of Chapel Hill. The society works to protect local wildlife and their habitats across Chatham, Durham and Orange counties.

“I realized that we're removing quite a bit of leaf material from our landscapes and sending it to other places to be compost,” Driscoll said. “And when we do that, we're removing moths and butterflies that overwinter in the leaves as well as other insects such as fireflies, so I wanted to promote educating people to keep the leaves in their yards.”

Pushing leaves to the side of the road can also be dangerous, Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said.

“When you pile your leaves in the bike lane or you're keeping pedestrians and cyclists from using the roadway, it creates a safety hazard,” he said. “We want to keep people safe, so it's important for people to keep their leaves on their property.” 

Seils said most neighborhoods in Carrboro are on a schedule of two leaf pickups per month.

Luke Bennett, a conservation coordinator at the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, said not removing leaves from yards helps to create fertile soil, promote healthy trees, reduce flooding and support local wildlife.

“We really like to encourage folks to leave the leaves where they are,” Seils said. “It's better for the environment, it's better for wildlife in the area and it's also cheaper and has a lesser environmental impact.”

Catherine Lazorko, the communication and engagement director for the Town of Carrboro, said both Chapel Hill and Carrboro are offering a pledge on their websites for residents to sign. Upon completing the pledge, community members get a free yard sign, she said

“At this time of year we know people are kind of managing their leaves — they might be raking them and pulling them up for collection,” she said. “We just want to remind folks to be cognizant of the best place to put those leaves.”

Driscoll said, while leaving leaves alone completely is the best thing to do, the next best thing would be to blow leaves under trees or shrubs. 

“A lot of people complain because they can't grow grass under trees anyway, so just leave the leaves out to the drip line — which is as far as the limbs of the trees extend,” she said. “That actually is healthier for the trees and improves their life quality because they're also dropping their leaves, and their leaves are what biodegrades and then provides nutrients back to the trees.”

Bennett said another way people can use their leaves is by composting and using the composted leaves as a fertilizer. Driscoll said that by leaving their leaves, people can do what they can to help the environment. 

“It feels overwhelming, all the environmental things going on,” she said. “And I think it feels that way, especially for younger people with climate change and loss of biodiversity, but one thing we all control is what is happening in our yards.” 

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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