Celebrate National Volunteer Month with Volunteer Tom Darling

Tuesday, April 2, 2024
Tom Darling volunteers weekly with the town’s invasive plants removal team.

Tom Darling has volunteered with the “Greenway Gang” — as he likes to call it — since fall of 2021.  

The team meets weekly to remove invasive plants from Hillsborough’s public spaces as part of a program of the Hillsborough Tree Board. Recently, their work has focused on the Riverwalk greenway. 

“Once we got into the groove of removing the invasive species, we realized we needed to replace them with native species because it’s important for the ecosystem,” Darling said. “The first year we did around 300 new native plantings, and this year we did around 800.” 

The team aims to create a visual impact with native plants for Riverwalk users. The volunteer work has become cyclical, removing invasive plants in the spring, summer and fall and planting native plants in the winter. This planting season, the volunteers have taken the time to flag the new plantings to keep a better eye on them. 

“I like getting out in the woods and just observing nature,” Darling said. “I think that society now is just so busy that a lot of people don’t take the time to stop and look around and see what’s out there.” 

Darling has lived in the Cornwallis Hills neighborhood in Hillsborough for 30 years. After he retired, his wife showed him a town request for volunteers to remove invasive plants. Darling decided to not only give it a try but also to make volunteering in this way a weekly commitment. 

“A big part of volunteering is meeting new groups of friends,” Darling said. “While you’re doing that, you’re helping the town out and helping nature out.”  

The invasive species removal team gathers on Wednesdays for two hours in the afternoon in the cooler months and in the morning during the summer. If it’s removal season, they bring loppers and shears to remove plants such as the fast-growing Chinese privet. If it’s planting season, they bring shovels and trowels. Darling noted they recently planted elderberry along the water’s edge, which they expect will be a great food source to many animals. 

His involvement with the team led him to seek appointment to the Hillsborough Tree Board last fall, where he now continues to follow his passion for nature. 

“There is only one earth, so you really have to look after it and be a good steward of it,” Darling said. “This includes allowing the native species that have been here forever to thrive and, in turn, supporting the wildlife that’s out here.” 

He encourages others to volunteer with the invasive species removal team. The volunteers vary in age, and some are retired while others have flexible work schedules. No previous gardening experience is required. 

“It’s not hard work — it’s fun!” Darling said. “Get down in the river and play around a little bit.”