Merion Station’s Mike Weilbacher has spent the past 40 years finding creative ways to teach us about nature, most recently as the executive director of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough. Also known as the “All-Natural Science Guy” on WXPN-FM’s Kid’s Corner, Weilbacher has authored his first book, Wild Philly: Explore the Amazing Nature in and Around Philadelphia (Timber Press, 368 pages). It offers 25 field trips to parks, preserves and natural areas, organized by season and accompanied by cool illustrated maps.
MLT: You had an eight-member “Naturalist Advisory Team” providing input for your book. Did anything come up that surprised you?
MW: Tons. The chapter on the Lenape, for example, was based on new scholarship that shows that they actively managed the land. They were burning parts of the landscape to keep certain plants, like nut trees, around. Another surprise for me was learning that the beaver was the first animal that became locally extinct. The demand for beaver pelts in Europe for making hats was so strong that beavers were essentially trapped out in here by the 1600s.
MLT: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
MW: I’m hoping they realize just how much interesting nature there is in this area. In the center of Manayunk, you can see peregrine falcons nesting in a church steeple or walk along the Manayunk Canal and see trees that have been chewed on by beaver. That’s one nice surprise—that beavers have decided to reintroduce themselves to the region. I’m also hoping more people will introduce themselves to nature because climate change is emerging as such an important issue—which the book talks about.
MLT: Does the book offer any suggestions for how to help?
I have a chapter on how people can become citizen scientists. Armed with a cell phone, you can now contribute meaningful data to ongoing scientific studies and be a data point in an ongoing understanding of Wild Philly. That’s one great thing you can do.
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