TOWAMENCIN — The scene of a summer tragedy could soon be turned into a place for Towamencin residents to remember a young life lost far too soon.
Residents Kelly and Andrew Bertolazzi recently showed the township supervisors an early concept for a butterfly garden memorializing the late Eliza Talal.
“Why a butterfly garden? One of the volunteers, on the morning Eliza was found, was with a group of women. They were about to leave, they were just getting tired, everyone had been looking all night and were getting pretty hopeless,” said Kelly.
“She noticed a butterfly, and she decided to just follow the butterfly. And the butterfly led her to Eliza, who was lying under a dogwood tree.”
Eliza Talal was five years old at the time she went missing, around noon on Aug. 4 as Tropical Storm Isaias swept through the region, bringing rain and flooding to Montgomery County. Police, family, and neighbors searched the area for much of that night and the following day, before Eliza’s body was found the following morning near a creek at Fischer’s Park.
“We felt like it was just very, very symbolic, and we felt we wanted to do something to honor her memory,” said Kelly Bertolazzi.
As she spoke, she and Andrew showed the supervisors slides of the area of Fischer’s Park where they’d like to design a garden, on the park’s north end on a walking path near Kriebel and Bustard Roads, just upland from the creek. Two tentative sites have been chosen, one surrounding the temporary memorial tree where friends and family have placed balloons, wreaths, and other tributes to Eliza, and another site slightly uphill and across a walking path.
“We’re trying to create an outdoor room, or gathering place, where people could come and enjoy their time. There would also be a memorial plaque, and it could be a place where people could gather, and have conversations, and watch the butterflies when the plants are in bloom,” Andrew Bertolazzi said.
No formal design has been developed, but early concepts include a stone wall that could surround the garden and provide space to sit, new benches could be added, and wood chips or marble could separate the garden from adjacent woodlands, with native flowers including Asclepias Tuberosa, or Butterfly Weed.
“There’s really dense growth there, and we wanted to form a barrier to prevent it from intruding into the butterfly garden, and overwhelming the plants there,” Andrew said.
Early cost estimates are that the first site, around the tree, would cost roughly $14,500 to clear the site, construct the wall, and add the plantings, while the second uphill site is estimated to cost just over $21,000. Both of those figures do not include engineering or permitting fees, the Bertolazzis told the board, nor were costs of clearing and maintaining the land. Early versions of the plans have been shown to the township’s parks committee, which Kelly said recommended that volunteers can be used, but may not be reliable for upkeep.
“We were just trying to lower the costs and volunteer our services. This is a group of people who are very passionate about honoring Eliza’s memory, as well as doing something for the environment,” she said.
Eliza’s parents are “very grateful” for the idea, Kelly added, and did buy a crabapple tree just after Eliza’s passing, because apples were one of her favorite fruits. That tree could also be incorporated, Kelly told the board, but the two wanted feedback from the supervisors before proceeding any farther.
“It’s a wonderful thing you’re doing here, and the work you’re doing is extremely thought-out. I think this will create a fitting memorial for a little girl that should still be here,” said supervisor Rich Marino.
Supervisor Laura Smith added that she thought the butterfly story was “so beautifully compelling, and I think it will go a long way to really bringing the community together.”
“I’ve always believed that something dark always takes us to something light. And I think Eliza will shed great light on our community for many years to come,” Smith said.
Board Chairman Chuck Wilson said he thought the idea and presentation were “fantastic,” but said he’d like to hear more about the ongoing maintenance costs, and supervisor Dan Littley warned against using wood chips so close to the creek.
Parts of that park near the creek are also designated as protected wetlands which cannot be disturbed, Littley added, and he suggested the organizers coordinate with township Public Works Director Dave Hillmantel on how to avoid those areas.
Supervisor Dan Bell added that he had seen plenty of talk on social media from residents looking for ways to honor Eliza and her memory, including a memorial fund on GoFundMe meant to cover costs of therapy for Eliza’s two siblings that has now raised over $46,000.
“There’s a lot of steps to take, but we want to be here to support those next steps,” he said.
The two volunteers said they’d meet with staff to further discuss site locations and Smith said she’d share details on possible local nonprofits that could help with fundraising.son said.
Towamencin’s supervisors next meet at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 28; for more information visit www.Towamencin.org.