Family Camping

While spending time in nature helps us to unplug and rejuvenate, finding the time to do so while surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city can often be a challenge. If you’re looking to get away, there are great spots around Philadelphia to relax and refresh with the family. In addition to checking out these great spots, make sure to join us June 23–24 for the 14th annual Great American Backyard Campout, which is held in collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation. Spend the night under the stars, hike through the forest, and tell stories around the campfire… all while within city limits. Call 215-482-7300 x 137 to register. Check out these amazing spots within a short drive of city limits.

French Creek State Park (1 hour 10 minutes)
Located in Berks and Chester counties, French Creek State Park is the largest block of continuous forest located between New York City and Washington, D.C. Its options for sleeping arrangementseverything from cabins to cottages to yurts to traditional tentsmake it a great spot for both experienced and beginning campers alike.

Ricketts Glen State Park (2 hours 30 minutes)

Ricketts Glen is home to the Glens Natural Areaa National Natural Landmark. The park has 26 miles of trails. The most popular is the Falls Trail (a 7.2 mile loop), where visitors can view 21 waterfalls. There are shorter trail options with waterfall vistas as well.

Cape Henlopen State Park (2 hours 15 minutes)

Cape Henlopen offers a variety of recreational options. Climb to the top of the World War II observation tower, take the Seaside or Pinelands nature trails to explore coastal habitats, enjoy a game of disc golf, or spend the day relaxing on the beach.

Wharton State Forest (45 minutes)
Nestled within the Pine Barrens, the Atsion Recreation Area is at the heart of the forest. Named after the Atsion Mansion, the recreation area is situated on a 100-acre lake perfect for kayaking and canoeing.

 

 

 

An Invitation to the Nesting Bird Census

By Mike Weilbacher

Join us on June 16th for coffee, donuts, and peak birding! The annual Nesting Bird Census is one of the many opportunities to engage in citizen science at the Schuylkill Center. 

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker, by Chris Petrak

In early May, a small group of us spent a morning walking the Grey Fox loop, the long trail that ventures through diverse habitats meadows—Pine Grove, farms, a stream, and Wind Dance Pondsearching for birds that were then migrating through the Schuylkill Center’s extensive forest. There is a narrow window of opportunity to see themand our group jumped through that window in style.

In a highly organized effort, birdwatchers fanned out across Pennsylvania to count migrating birds. For the first time in a few years, this effort included Philadelphia. While Roxborough was well represented in the count (other teams counted along River Road and the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve), our group looked for which birds were using the Schuylkill Center as a migration stop.

Four hours and almost 300 birds and 52 species later, we submitted our census.

We counted plenty of year-round residents that you’d see if in December, or if you had bird feeders in your yard: the robin, cardinal, crow, and blue jay.

In addition, we saw two predatory birds. A red-tailed hawk rested in a large tree only a stone’s throw from Hagy’s Mill Road, oblivious to the traffic right below. Its rust-colored tail is a easy giveaway, but it also is the most common hawk in Pennsylvania. We also glimpsed a black vulture flying overhead. This soaring, thick-winged bird is a specialist in eating already-dead animals; call them nature’s garbage collectors.

What we were all secretly after were warblers, small jewel-like birds, most of whom migrate through Pennsylvania on their way to northern nesting grounds. Obsessive birdwatchers are out a lot this time of year, bending backwards staring high into trees, fighting off “warbler neck” to get a good view. For me, the Holy Grail is the Blackburnian warbler, its head a complicated and stunning helmet of orange-and-black striping. I have only seen a handful in a lifetime of birding, and none showed Saturday. Still, we did great in the warbler department.

Then there was the catch of the day: a large pileated woodpecker, the crow-sized songbird upon which Woody Woodpecker was modeled, a blackish bird with startling red crest, armed with a chisel-like beak that breaks off huge chunks of dead wood. Not seen easily or often, this one was focused like a laser beam on the ground around a dead tree trunkpossibly a colony of ants was warranting its attention. Two of the group were skilled photographers, and we made sure they got good shots.

There is a higher conservation purpose to all this. Between climate change and habitat loss, outdoor house cats prowling and too many shiny windows to fly into, bird populations are reeling. While Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring worried that pesticides like the now-banned DDT would remove birdsong from our experience of spring, other issues have arisen to take its place. As noted here last week, migrating birds like those warblers heading between nest sites in Canada and overwintering grounds in South America need protected habitats both in the north and in the south, not to mention in migration corridors along the way. 

The Schuylkill Center was proud to participate in a conservation effort to document which migrating birds were passing through the region when. Over time, and with years of data, conservation scientists will be able to monitor trends.

While we were doing important science, we had the pleasure and honor to be in the presence of some pretty amazing creatures.

On June 16th, at the ungodly but very bird-appropriate hour of 6:30 a.m., fueled by coffee and donuts, we’ll fan out across the Schuylkill Center again, this time looking for nesting birds, as the migrants have moved on. We’ve been counting nesting birds for almost 50 years. Come help us continue this crucial citizen science effort and we’ll introduce you to some pretty cool creatures.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

 

Naturepalooza Blog

Beautiful weather, hands-on activities, and plenty of exploration marked this year’s annual Earth Day celebration at the Schuylkill Center. Every year, Naturepalooza is held as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival’s Science in the Park event. This year those that came to Naturepalooza enjoyed everything from fort building in our pine tree forest, to interactive environmental science and art activities provided by partner organizations and artists, to hikes and pond explorations. Thanks our many partners that made it such a successful day! If you came to Naturepalooza, we also want to thank you for choosing to celebrate Earth Day with us and hope you left with a smile, new knowledge, and some nature-inspired memories. Comment below with your favorite moments.

Here at the Center, we celebrate Earth Day throughout the year with our education programs, land stewardship efforts, and through the environmental art department. With the start of our busy season right around the corner, there are many opportunities for you to continue to celebrate Earth Day with us as well—whether it be through our summer camp programs, by helping out at our Community Gardens Day on June 16, or by visiting our summer gallery exhibition, Wet Lab. We hope to see you soon.

Moving Field Guides: Learning through Dance at Naturepalooza

“The Moving Field Guide  relies on discovery and observation, which are important skills across all disciplines. It allows nearly all age groups to participate, it promotes critical thinking, it encourages participants to engage their environment, and allows for creative expression.” Jessie L Scott III, Boston Urban Connections Coordinator, USDA Forest Service

 

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Cassie Meador is thrilled to be returning to Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education as part of Naturepalooza, the Center’s Family Earth Day Celebration. As part the festivities, families will get outdoors to learn about local ecology and the ways in which water shapes our lives through a series of movement activities in Cassie Meador’s Moving Field Guide program. Cassie will partner with the Schuylkill Center’s very own environmental educator Eduardo Duenas on two Moving Field Guides during the celebrationat 11am and 12:30 pm. Join them on these interactive nature walk to learn, move, and make new connections to the outdoors and each other through dance.

Cassie, Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange, and a creative team from Dance Exchange will return to the Schuylkill Center this June as part of the LandLab artist residency program. The residency will culminate in September 2018 with an invitation to families and other local folks in the region to join in the creation of a performance and an environmental art installation, reflecting on the ways water shapes, moves, and sustains our lives.

Through the LandLab residency, Cassie Meador will collaborate with Jame McCray, an interdisciplinary ecologist, and Zeke Leonard, an artist who mobilizes community-based sustainability efforts through interactive musical objects and installations. The creative team will use interdisciplinary artmaking approaches to move people from a place of observation to participation to active stewardship.

 

Image credits: Jori Ketton and Schuylkill Center LandLab collection.

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DANCE EXCHANGE

Founded in 1976 by Liz Lerman and under the artistic direction of Cassie Meador since 2011, Dance Exchange is a non-profit dance organization based in Takoma Park, Maryland. Dance Exchange’s innovative local, national, and international performance projects engage communities and partners across a wide range of disciplines. Dance Exchange ignites inquiry, inspires change, and connects people of all ages more deeply to the questions at the heart of our lives through dancemaking and creative practices by collaborating across generations, disciplines and communities to channel the power of performance as a means for dialogue, a source of critical reflection, and a creative engine for thought and action.Blog image 5

LANDLAB

LandLab is a unique artist residency program that operates on multiple platforms: artistic creation, ecological restoration and education. A joint project of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab offers resources and space on our 340-acre wooded property for visual artists to engage audiences in the processes of ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation.

 

Naturalist’s Notebook: Native Plants, Harbingers of Spring

Skunk Cabbage2
The end is near! The world? No, just the winter season. And what bears such glad tidings you wonder? Our native plant friends. In February, the Schuylkill Center staff took its monthly nature walk down Ravine Loop hunting for the first tell of spring, skunk cabbage (above). I’m happy to report that we found it on February 9th in a particularly wet area just above Smith Run where the little stone bridge crosses a semi-perennial tributary. Just barely visible was its little purplish hood, the forbearer of the true flower. The first source of pollen in late winter, skunk cabbage attracts bees and other hungry pollinators looking for their first taste of spring.
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Roxborough’s Toad Rage

By Claire Morgan, Volunteer Coordinator & Administrative Assistant

closeup toadIt’s early spring, just around sunset, and the conditions are just right—55 degrees and humid. A high-pitched trilling rings out in the distance. The shallow water of the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve stirs with excitement. The toads of Roxborough are ready to run—and ready to attract a mate.

On some evenings, as many as two hundred toads can be seen heading from the Schuylkill Center’s forest to the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve in a period of just two hours. The steady stream of traffic at the intersection of Hagy’s Mill Road and Port Royal Avenue (that separates the forest from the preserve) presents a huge obstacle to the toads as they cross the road in preparation for their springtime mating ritual. Continue reading

LARN with artists

Getting to know rivers through art

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

An underwater video of the Brandywine River underwater, from Dylan Gauthier's highwatermarks: six ways of sensing the river, a micro level investigation of environmental issues that affect rivers and streams throughout the world

An underwater video still of the Brandywine River, from Dylan Gauthier’s highwatermarks: six ways of sensing the river, a micro level investigation of environmental issues that affect rivers and streams throughout the world

What’s in a name? It’s one of the first things we ask someone, but can be quickly forgotten. It’s often given to us by others, yet is expected to serve as a distillation of our identity. Who gets to decide a name is a question layered with power dynamics, whether it be people, places, organisms, or ecosystems.

Despite these complexities, in a 2017 New York Times op-ed, Akiko Busch wrote, “Giving something a name is the first step in taking care of it.” Thinking of bodies of water, a name is an opening, a prelude, a microcosm, a way to be knowna first step on the pathway to meaningful connections between people and nature.

This winter, the Schuylkill Center will open Learn a River’s Namea new exhibition in our art gallery. It’s a group of seven projects guided by this question: how can art help us to know a river’s name, to not only value it but know it, and therefore to seek to steward it?  With a focus on water bodies in the Mid-Atlantic region, seven artists explore rivers and streams within driving distance of the Schuylkill Center—the Schuylkill, Delaware, Brandywine, and Hudson Rivers. Continue reading

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2018 is the Year of Water

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By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.”
Ben Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

Water is essential, both to our planet and to our programming. School groups search for living creatures in our ponds while Nature Preschoolers stomp through puddles and play in the mud kitchen. Summer campers hike along creeks, raft in whitewater, and snorkel in the ocean, while University of Nature adults discuss global water issues.

This will happen even more in the New Year, as 2018 will be the Year of Water across our programming. We’ll begin with the Richard L. James Lecture on February 8, inviting six prominent thinkers to talk about water and end next November, when the Henry Meigs Environmental Leadership Award is given to a visionary regional leader whose work revolves around water. Continue reading

Susan Beard Photography

Roxborough’s Kay Sykora is the 2017 Meigs Leadership Awardee

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

On Thursday, November 16 at 7 pm, the Schuylkill Center presents our highest honor, the Henry Meigs Award for Environmental Leadership, to an old friend and Roxborough neighbor, Kay Sykora.

Susan Beard PhotographyFounder of the incredibly successful Manayunk Development Corporation in the early 1980s, Kay has over the last 30 years pioneered and tirelessly championed the Schuylkill River Trail through Manayunk and Roxborough, leading the effort to transform the canal towpath into the River Trail, now one of Manayunk’s most-loved amenities. She played a key role in the planning efforts that led to the Manayunk Bridge’s reinvention as a multi-modal trail beloved by thousands of bikers, runners, and walkers.

She also founded Destination Schuylkill River to re-connect Manayunk to its river, has been involved in restoring the canal, and is equally passionate about making the towpath a more vibrant and enticing community amenity. She has been a leader in the Central Roxborough Civic Association and co-founded Roxborough Green, a community tree planting and gardening project.

Susan Beard Photography“I am deeply honored by the recognition for the work we all have done,” Kay said.  “I say this because I feel that I am more a facilitator for the people who care about trails, nature, and greening.  If people didn’t care the work never would have succeeded.” Continue reading

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Plants and People Connect through Art

Photo courtesy of Vaughn Bell

Photo courtesy of Vaughn Bell

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Most people know that we rely on plants for the food we eat and the air we breathe, but the interconnections between plants and people actually go much deeper and are more nuanced. Scientists continue to discover the complexities of how plants take in and respond to information, even communicating with each other through underground networks and chemical signals.  Human systems powerfully influence plant communities, locations, and health – and they also exert a powerful influence over us.  

Yet, despite the intricacies of the plant-human relationship, plants are often overlooked, even compared to other aspects of the natural world. Studies have demonstrated and revealed the concept of “plant blindness,” in which many people literally don’t see plants at all, as they become the equivalent of ecological wallpaper.  We surround ourselves with representations of plants (they are all over our interior decorating, and certain kinds of plants are elevated in our traditions around holidays and significant milestones), yet we have little connection with the plants themselves, knowledge of their qualities, or their significance in our lives.

The Schuylkill Center’s fall gallery show features artists who explore the relationships between plants and people and the places they inhabit and move through – revealing and encouraging these oft overlooked anthro-botanical relationships.

Ellie Irons Invasive Pigments project investigates the origins and uses for plants that are often uncelebrated or even reviled – the plants we call weeds or invasive plants. Irons has been creating watercolor paint from the wild plants she finds near her studio in Brooklyn, and her watercolor maps help show the way these plants have moved globally in response to human systems.

Rachel Eng makes the connection of our reliance of plants not across space, but across geologic time. In unfired clay, Eng rendered plants from the Middle Devonian period in the Appalachian region that we know today as Marcellus Shale gas, then photographed them in Pennsylvania landscapes threatened by Marcellus Shale drilling. These foreign, extinct plants remain with us in the coveted form of natural gas, yet are rarely part of that highly politicized conversation.

Vaughn Bell’s Metropolis provides an immersive view of a representative sample of the Schuylkill Center forest, yet provides a wholly new perspective on these plant communities. Rather than looking down on the plants, or up to the tree tops, Metropolis puts the viewer at eye level with plants, equalizing this physical relationship. This shift in perspective allows for a more empathetic connection, seeing the world from a plant’s vantage point. The experience is multisensory, however – the dramatic smell and humidity change drives home just how much plants shape their own environments, and shape us.  Metropolis’ form alludes to a city skyline, further connecting the ecological and urban systems that tend to be considered as separate.

The Environmental Performance Agency (EPA) is a new artist collective named in response to the proposed defunding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Deploying yet subverting the trope of a government bureaucracy, the group engages in a variety of practices centered on plant/human relationships, with urban weeds as mentors, collaborators, and stewards.

The artists in Anthrobotanical help us to see plants more clearly, and more in connection with ourselves.  Scientists have discovered the mechanisms by which stands of trees merge their roots to share nutrients and resources,  to modulate and protect against extreme weather conditions –the community becomes the priority over individual competition.  We may do well to remember the extent to which our own roots are tied up with plants.

Please join us to celebrate the opening of Anthrobotanical with a reception on September 7th at 6 p.m. Enjoy light refreshments in the gallery and a guided tour of the exhibition. Anthrobotanical  will be on view through December 9th.