Volunteers from Friends of Exton Park, Weston Solutions and the Church Farm School plant native species along the berm by the Exton Park Pond.
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education has been connecting Philadelphia-area residents with nature since 1965, through programs that range from a nature-based preschool to its Toad Detour, where hundreds of volunteers shepherd the amphibians across a busy road each spring. The center is led by Mike Weilbacher, known for his “Green Light” column in the Main Line Times and regular appearances on WXPN.
During the spring breeding season, American toads migrate from the center’s forests to the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve, crossing bustling Port Royal Avenue to get there. With permission from the Philadelphia Streets Department, volunteers close the road with barricades in the evening. In early summer, millions of babies make the trip back. About 400 volunteers help with each year.
Since its start in 2009, the Toad Detour has saved the lives of 10,600 adult amphibians. The program combines many of the center’s core programming values. Community members care for wild creatures in local habitats, and families learn about the ecology of the American toad. “The hope is to foster environmental stewardship by getting people of all ages out and into the natural world,” says Claire Morgan, the Schuylkill Center’s volunteer coordinator.
Brian Raicich does field work with students from the YMCA’s environmental education program//Photo by Kriston Bethel.
The way he sees it, Brian Raicich has put his degrees in environmental resource management and pollution control to good use. Now the associate executive director of Upper Main Line YMCA, he has served as its youth and family director, camp director, and senior program director of youth development.
But perhaps his biggest claim to fame at UMLY is the environmental education program he founded there in 1998. He’s since expanded the program to serve more than 2,000 annual participants through camps, classes, workshops and more. The environmental education complex has grown from within the Y’s 54-acre campus to include learning gardens, a science lab, a nature center with over 16 live animal exhibits, and a barn and barnyard with chickens, sheep and goats. There’s also the Cassatt Preserve—20 acres of woodlands, wetlands, meadows, a one-acre pond, five miles of trails, and the headwaters of Darby Creek. A birds-of-prey center will be added in 2016.
Graduates of Raicich’s program have gone on to become science teachers, civil and environmental engineers, ornithologists, and more. UMLY has competed and won in the World Series of Birding each year since 2003. “Children who are engaged in playtime and discovery in the outdoors are in better physical shape, more focused in school, and are just happier kids,” says Raicich. “Instilling an appreciation of the great outdoors in our children will develop our future environmental leaders.”
The emerald ash borer.
The emerald ash borer is the poster bug for the problem of invasive tree species in many local communities where ash trees line the streets. Ten recent grants went to communities offering a model management plan. The first was awarded to West Chester, which was given seed money and has become a demo site. Borough officials, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and West Chester University, are mounting a test case for the Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan for Pennsylvania Communities.
West Chester’s urban forester, Denise Dunn-Kesterson, launched the model 10-year EAB program in 2013. With help from the DCNR and WCU, ash trees in the borough’s three most heavily wooded parks—Hoopes, Marshall Square and Everhart—were evaluated, monitored and treated. The team secured a $25,000 grant and is in the process of injecting the trees with a systematic insecticide to save and prolong the life of more than 100.
Since 1989, Dunn-Kesterson has supervised the care, maintenance and planting of the borough’s urban canopy. With her help, West Chester has planted more than 3,800 trees and earned the distinction of Tree City USA annually since 1989. “I’m most proud of planting two trees for every one that had to be removed,” says Dunn-Kesterson, who lives in Downingtown, where her love of horticulture is reflected in her award-winning home gardens. “That, and planting trees for our veterans on Arbor Day, while leaving a diverse urban forest for the future to enjoy.”
Meliora Design’s handiwork at the Philadelphia Zoo.
Civil engineering firm Meliora Design has become a go-to for projects related to water and landscape. Located in a repurposed historic church in Phoenixville, the company focuses on “green infrastructure” for stormwater, water reuse, and alternative wastewater systems in an effort to restore ecology, habitat and healthy places. “It’s not what people generally think of when they think of development or engineers,” says Meliora’s Michele Adams.
That in mind, the firm is always looking for ways to improve design with renewable and ecologically based materials. Many of its projects utilize biochar, a mix of organic waste materials that sequesters carbon as a way to clean urban stormwater before it reaches streams. Its engineers seek out natural systems as models. “Sustainable design is a collaborative effort,” Adams says.
Last year, Meliora was surprised to learn that migrating monarch butterflies were stopping at the Philadelphia Zoo because of a native food source planted in green infrastructure the firm helped design. “That was a greater thrill than any design award,” Adams says.