Photo Credit: Jerome Eno

Schuylkill Center response to COVID-19 coronavirus situation

Photo Credit: Jerome Eno

Photo Credit: Jerome Eno

The Schuylkill Center remains closed through June 4 as mandated by Governor Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order. This closure includes the Visitor Center and Nature Preschool.  

All on-site programming has been suspended through the end of May. We will update our website with future plans as they unfold. At this writing, we still intend on holding a full summer of Camp Schuylkill, and will make any determination here when we get closer to its June opening.

Due to a member of our Wildlife Clinic staff having recently confirmed contact with the Coronavirus, we are unable to fully staff the Clinic at this time.  For that reason, we are forced to close until further notice and are unable to accept any injured animals. We appreciate your continued support and understanding at this difficult time.  If you do encounter a wild animal in distress, call the Clinic’s 24-Hour Wildlife Hotline at 215-482-7300 option 2. If you have found an animal you believe to be orphaned, call the Wildlife Hotline before attempting to contain the animal, and we can help you determine what action to take.

Our trails are open dawn to dusk, every day. Enjoying sunshine and fresh air will help get us through this unusual time, as nature alleviates stress and anxiety. Please practice appropriate physical distancing while on the trails and give those around you at least 6 feet of space—one full stretched turkey vulture, to be exact! As per the governor’s and CDC’s recommendations, please wear a mask when walking our trails.

We ask you to keep the nearby roads safe by parking appropriately in designated lots and take all of your trash and belongings with you when you leave. Please also keep your pets at home.

Thank you again for enjoying the Schuylkill Center.

How We’re Navigating the Pandemic’s Whitewaters

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Like all businesses, nonprofits, and even families, the Schuylkill Center has been struggling through the pandemic and the now-two-months-and-counting lockdown. While hikers and families have happily discovered the benefits of our 340 acres of forests and meadows, our staff is chafing to return, and we’re waiting for the science (and the governor) to tell us when this might happen.

It might surprise you to learn that we hire more than 50 employees: educators who lead school field trips on environmental science, rehabilitators who heal injured and sick wild animals, preschool teachers who use our forest as their classroom, artists who install exhibitions in our gallery and along our trails, and all the support staff this activity requires: a fundraising staff, a finance staff, a crew managing our land and facilities, and so much more.

On Friday, March 13th, a date seared forever into my memory, we sent everyone home, including staff and preschoolers. Schools stopped coming for visits; we cancelled programming initially through March, and now of course into April and May. Our finances fell off a cliff: one projection showed revenue dropping 70% in this quarter from budgeted expectations.

We carried those employees through the first month, paying them all and retaining their health benefits, whether or not they were able to perform their jobs remotely (it’s hard to mow virtual trails, for example). But we couldn’t continue this forever–the pandemic was outlasting everyone’s patience and our cash. So, on April 10 we furloughed most of the staff, retaining a skeleton crew of people to run the business: maintenance staff to make sure the buildings were secure and all systems operating; a finance crew to pay the bills; a fundraising crew to try to bring additional donations into the organization; a wildlife rehabilitation team to care for the animals in or Wildlife Clinic; and more. But not much more.

Here’s every executive director’s nightmare: to host a Zoom call for 50 people and tell most of them they are about to be furloughed. Neither easy nor fun, it was essential, as we simply ran out of the ability to retain our staff, and anyone who stayed on in the skeleton crew had either their salaries or hours reduced–the pain was shared among all 50 of us. But I was relieved that our Board of Trustees, the wonderful volunteers who make sure our organization is pointed in the right direction, agreed that we not only keep all furloughed employees on our group healthcare plan, but we foot the bill for the entire benefit, as there was no longer any salary to deduct the employee’s share from. We were not going to launch our staff into a pandemic without health coverage.

But then an extraordinary thing happened: during the first week of furlough, we got word from our bank, S&T Bank, the new name for the bank on Ridge Avenue not far from the new pocket park, that we had successfully secured one of the coveted but controversial Paycheck Protection Program grants from the Small Business Administration. It was Christmas in April: the furlough lasted only one week for the lion’s share of our staff.

There is a surprise here. One month later, both us and the bank are still wrestling with the program’s murky requirements, especially whether or not the loan is forgiven. (Just talked with our banker, and it is as clear as mud–no fault of the bank at all.) Still, while you might have read about controversies around this program, this one nonprofit at least greatly benefited: without the loan, our people would have remained on furlough and would have been tapping into the state’s overtaxed unemployment compensation program. Say what you will, it worked for us. In spades.

We are, of course, among the lucky ones, as we received the loan; so many sister nonprofits and businesses are still waiting to hear if their PPP ship has sailed in. I’d like to personally thank S&T Bank for being on top of this program–that has been a godsend.

Suddenly it is mid-May, and we are staring at two new hurdles in front of us. For one, our summer camp usually starts in early June, and a cohort of summer camp counselors still expect to show up to work with us this summer. We have exactly zero clarity on whether or not this happens right now, and our staff is doggedly trying to prepare for all scenarios at once, everything from a full summer of camp to a greatly reduced camp, whichever that virus throws at us.

Second, the PPP money runs out in June, which back in April read as tiding us over until summer camp revenue would kick in to support our operations and our staff. That is no longer a certainty. So a possibility exists that in mid-June we end up exactly where we were in mid-April: staring at an unending lockdown with cash again running low.

Like you, I’m waiting for this rollercoaster ride to end, urging our staff to be patient, and praying for something akin to a miracle, a summer free from the virus, one that allows families to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives.

That’s how the Schuylkill Center is doing.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Natural Selections: Manayunk and Manatawna: Our Lenape Place Names

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

5e544c255ef38.imageOne of the pleasures of teaching and talking about our Roxborough land are our historic place names, so many of them Lenape in origin: Wissahickon, Conshohocken, Manatawna, Cinnaminson, Manayunk. Widen the lens a bit, and Philadelphia maps burst with Lenape words: Shackamaxon, Wingohocking, Kingsessing, Tulpehocken, Tioga.

Sadly, Phildelphians are taught too little, if anything, about the Lenape, the original people here, our First People, and too much that is taught is at best misleading and too often wrong. That statue of a Lenape chief that guards a bluff above the Wissahickon? He is carelessly outfitted as a Western Plains Indian, and historians agree there were no councils on Council Rock.

Deborah Del Collo, an archivist for the Roxborough, Manayunk, and Wissahickon Historical Society, and author of the excellent “Images of America: Roxborough,” wrote in its introduction, “The words manatawney and manaiung,” the latter her transliteration of Manayunk, “are intertwined with the beginning of Roxborough.” Manatawna is, of course, the name of a narrow street that connects Ridge Avenue just past Cathedral Avenue with Hagy’s Mill Road; you can see the road in the 1926 aerial photo of Upper Roxborough included here – it’s on the far right; that’s Ridge Avenue slicing through the foreground.

But an 1895 railroad atlas in my office curiously shows the word “Manatawna” used to mark the small village of homes near where that narrow street connects to the Ridge, as if Manatawna was a small town just outside the larger Roxborough. Readers, could this be true?

Del Collo wrote that “the Manatawney, which is currently Ridge Avenue in Roxborough, is a path from the native plantations of upper Roxborough to the Falls of the Schuylkill in the current East Falls section of Roxborough.” So she indicates that perhaps Manatawney was the original name of the Ridge. A tawney, she writes, is an open road and mana could mean “raging” or “god,” so she translates Manatawney as “an open road from our creator.”

While I love this, Wikipedia – I know, don’t believe everything you read online – includes a long list of Lenape place names under the entry “Lenapehoking,” the Lenape word for this land where we all live. They include Manatawny on this list, here with no “e” before the “y,” and use it to refer to a creek just outside Pottstown, and say the name means “place where we drink.”

Which is ironic, as many people know the derivation of Manayunk, which is usually said to be “place where we drink,” everyone ironically chuckling at modern Manayunk’s collection of bars and restaurants. Del Collo writes, “The addition of iung (water or stream) to mana in manaiung translates to a ‘raging river,’ which makes perfect sense since the waters of the Schuylkill bordering Roxborough were raging waters in Lenape days.” To make it navigable, the famous Falls of the Schuylkill of course were buried under water from the Flat Rock dam.

Wikipedia hews to the more traditional translation of Manayunk, “place where we go to drink.” I like Del Collo’s translations on both counts, but I’d love for Lenape scholars and native speakers to weigh in.

“Schuylkill,” of course, is a Dutch place name, translating to “hidden river.” But what did the Lenape call this important river? Pennsylvania Heritage published a 2013 piece by historian Joan Wenner, “A River Runs Through Penn’s Woods: Tracing the Mighty Schuylkill,” where she writes, “Once the grand watercourse was home to the Delaware Indians who called it the manaiunk meaning ‘rushing and roaring waters.’”

Apart from all the different spellings of the word, Benner indicates that the Lenape called the river itself Manayunk, and she backs up Del Collo on the “roaring” part. Manayunk: roaring water. Great name.

Nobody disagrees on Wissahickon; I’ve always heard it translated as “catfish stream.” But Del Collo writes that “Wisa can mean ‘catfish’ or ‘yellow,’ and hickon means ‘mouth of a large stream or tide;’ therefore Wissahickon literally means ‘a large catch of catfish found at the mouth of the creek.’” This makes way more sense to me: the catfish would have been in the Schuylkill – pardon me, the Manayunk – so the Lenape caught fish congregating in the Manayunk where the Wissahickon enters it, today where the Canoe Club sits.

Conshohocken translates to “pleasant valley” or “elegant land.” And Cinnaminson, that street that falls off the Ridge at the 5th District building, could either mean “rock island” or “sweet water.”

And my favorite place name? By translation, it’s Tulpehocken, the name of a creek and both street and train station in Germantown. That translates as “land of turtles,” as the turtle was sacred to the Lenape, all of us riding on the back of a giant turtle, the image that Roxborough often uses to describe itself, a la that mural above the 7-Eleven on Ridge. We all live on Tulpehocken.

And we all live in Lenapehoking, the ancestral lands of the Lenape, a people wrongly renamed the Delaware. The Schuylkill Center acknowledges that our 340-acre forest was once the haunts of the Lenape, and we would like to weave that story back into our landscape, and find more ways to connect more of us to that untold story.

I’ll continue to share what I discover with you all.

 

 

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Natural Selections: New Year’s resolutions from the Roxborough community

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

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2020 will see my continued fight for redistricting reform and to continue to work in a bipartisan manner to get good policy in place.” State Rep. Pamela A. DeLissio, D-194

With the calendar pages turning over to a new year – and a new decade to boot – it’s time for our annual roundup of New Year’s resolutions from community leaders across Roxborough.

Celeste Hardeseter, president of the Central Roxborough Civic Association, said that, “A century and more ago, people planted trees in their yards that, 100 years later, became magnificent mature specimens. Now, as these are becoming geriatric, we are seeing more and more of them cut down. I would like to persuade property owners to plant new trees, not the pretty little things that flower and mature in 20 years, but trees that are gifts to future generations of people and wildlife who live in Roxborough.

“So my ‘dream resolution’ for 2020 would be to see 100 large canopy hardwood trees planted throughout the community – oak, beech, elm, hackberry, horse chestnut, linden and Kentucky coffeetree, etc. – plus 50 large evergreens, which provide visual screening and year-round shade, like white pine, arborvitae, spruce, etc. I would love if people let the CRCA know what they have planted. Write to us at info@crca.us. Planting trees is such an important contribution to the entire community.”

Rich Giordano heads the Upper Roxborough Civic Association, and told me, “As a relative newcomer to the neighborhood (here ‘only’ 20 years) but also someone who has a genuine reverence for the unique history of our area, I’m focused on ensuring that what is important and vital is not lost and hopefully is in fact strengthened in the face of the very real changes that we are undergoing.”

Their compatriot Jamie Wyper is president of the Residents of the Shawmont Valley Association, and echoes Rich’s comments when he chimed in, “My resolution for the year is to keep reminding our community why we live in this corner for Philadelphia – for the beautiful landscape, the wildlife, the peace and quiet, the uniqueness – and why the only way to preserve it is to forego a small amount of personal benefit for the sake of the greater and lasting community benefit of preservation. This means sticking to the zoning code and not seeking variances to build larger, more, or inappropriately. Once we allow that, it is a short leap to maximal development and the permanent loss of this special place.”

Tom Landsmann, president of the new Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy, offered that, “My goal for 2020 is clarity and balance. Clarity to determine what’s important and a better work-life balance. Nature will be my tool to help me realize these simple goals. Last year our RMC had a very productive year. We engaged many new community park stewards, and introduced them to like-minded people and new green pocket parks in the area. This year, we’d like to continue to expand our community stewardship network, continue to improve our little green spaces, and continue to promote the benefits of native plantings with high wildlife value. Every member of our community should be exposed to nature. Nature brings clarity, mindfulness and balance to a busy modern life.”

According to James Harry Calamia, the executive director of the Roxborough Development Corp., good things are literally brewing here.

“As our Roxborough 2020 Plan’s life cycle comes to a close,” he said, “the beginning of this year welcomes an opportunity for reflection and analysis before new planning efforts unfold. The new decade also presents a fresh start for new business partnerships. The completion and opening of New Ridge Brewing Co., Night Shift Brewing, Vault Coworking as well as Ichiban Asian Restaurant are some of the most anticipated for the year.” His comments remind me that I need to have lunch at the White Yak soon, and I look forward to toasting the new breweries when they open!

Aaliyah Green Ross directs the education program of the Schuylkill Center and when I asked her what her New Year’s resolution was, she laughed. “I already broke my resolution! I resolved to eliminate single-use plastics from my life, and just bought grapes. I realized they come wrapped in plastic bags, and when I went to the Wawa, they wrapped my sandwich in plastic. So I’m going to redouble my efforts to reduce plastics – I’ve got my metal straws and my reusable produce bags, so I’m going to get better!”

Rebecca Michelin runs the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center, the only clinic of its kind in the city, and she was philosophical about her resolution. She wanted to “recognize and be understanding of our personal and professional limitations. Understanding that, as caregivers and humans, we can only do so much, and whether big or small, positive or negative, everything we do has an impact on those around us.”

State Rep. Pamela A. DeLissio, D-194 said, “My goal is to continue to fulfill my commitment to my constituents to have an ongoing dialogue with them regarding state-related policy. It is the best way I know to truly ‘represent’ the 194th. Town halls (90 to date) and new in 2019, my book club gathering, are just two of the ways I fulfill this commitment.

Councilman Curtis Jones, our representative in City Hall, told me his “resolution is short and simple: talking less; fixing more!” We agree, at least with the fixing part.

And Autumn Goin, the kindergartner whose father directs the Land & Facilities Department at the Schuylkill Center, told her dad that her “revolution” is to “listen to more music.”

Which is also what we need in 2020: more revolutions! Amen to all of the above, and thanks to our community leaders for their extraordinary work on our behalf.

Jo Ann Desper: Clinic Volunteer, RDC President

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

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Jo Ann is our hero, demonstrating a level of leadership and dedication that is uncommon in volunteerism.

James Harry Calamia, RDC Executive Director

Jo Ann Desper lives in the Wissahickon section of Roxborough, not far from that mystical hermit’s cave off Hermit Lane. The retired marketing executive is deeply rooted in our community: having lived in Roxborough-Manayunk for more than 30 years, she now wears two very important hats. Not only is she one of the fabulous volunteers at the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center, helping return injured, sick, and orphaned animals into the wild, but she is president of the Roxborough Development Corporation, the group charged with enlivening our business district. 

“As a volunteer for the RDC,” says James Harry Calamia, the RDC’s executive director, “Jo Ann is our hero, demonstrating a level of leadership and dedication that is uncommon in volunteerism. The contributions of nonprofit volunteers like Jo Ann embody the best in our community.” We at the Schuylkill Center second that emotion.

Volunteering at the Wildlife Clinic “is something I’ve been wanting to do for years,” she told me recently. She’s been there for most of this year, starting when the clinic held its wildlife-themed festival on Groundhog’s Day in February. After beginning with laundry and food preparation, she said, “I’ve learned how to feed baby birds, squirrels, all kinds of creatures. She likes the birds in general, “but the squirrels are adorable.” She’s especially attached to one she calls a “teenager,” soon ready for release.

And she’s had the pleasure of releasing three squirrels recently near hermit’s cave, former patients who have been sent back into the wild.

“Jo Ann is a much appreciated and essential part of our volunteer team,” said the clinic’s director, Rebececa Michelin. “She not only takes special care with the animals, she also gives her time to orient new volunteers and train them on daily tasks. It’s wonderful having such a compassionate person working with us to achieve our mission.”

An animal person, “one of my first jobs out of high school was as a veterinary assistant in a small vet hospital.” After a long career in what she calls “a Fortune Five healthcare company,” she laughs that she is “starting and ending my career with animals.” While she used to own five cats and a dog at her home, “I’m down to one dog and one cat,” so the clinic takes care of her need to be buried in animals.

Volunteering at the clinic “is hard work but very rewarding. It’s a way to help heal the earth– most of the animals we see are there because of some interaction with humans,” like birds currently at the clinic there because they were migrating south and struck glazed windows, unable to see the glass. “We owe it to them to get them back where they belong,” she offered.

She’s been on the board of the Roxborough Development Corporation for the last seven years, three as president, where the board oversees staff management of the Business Improvement District. “James and his staff do a lot to make the Ridge a place to shop, have fun, and be safe.” In the fun department, RDC has been the lead on the still-new pocket park on Ridge Avenue, which also smartly contributes to stormwater management. That fun is being kicked up a notch as a brewery, New Ridge, will soon open a brewpub alongside the park– this writer at least is greatly looking forward to tasting a New Ridge beer.

“We need more nighttime businesses,” Jo Ann continued, “to enliven the Ridge.” Manayunk has a very different nightlife than Roxborough, as Roxborough’s restaurants tend to attract locals to dine, but Manayunk is a destination for people across the region. While Roxborough might never be Manayunk– that’s a high hurdle– it has been taking some steps in that direction. In addition to New Ridge, Jo Ann noted the recent opening of the White Yak, a Tibetan restaurant, and the Philadelphia Folksong Socety’s move to the Ridge as well.

The RDC board is “all volunteers; we try to draw from the community: business owners, builders, realtors, residents like me, so all areas are represented.”

She also noted that the RDC is coming to the end of its Roxborough 2020 five-year plan, where residents filled out a questionnaire asking for their vision of Roxborough. When they tabulated the results, she said “everybody wanted two things, a Target and a Trader Joe’s. We got the Target,” she laughed, as there is a mini-Target in the old Superfresh at Ridge and Domino Lane. Let’s see if they can score a Trader Joe’s!

“We’re also trying to promote the green spaces,” she said, and noted that in their beautiful full-color folder the RDC hands out to new residents and businesses is a two-page spread denoting the open space attractions of Roxborough, including the River Trail, Andorra Meadows, the Wissahickon Valley Park, the Roxborough Reservoir Preserve, and yes, the Schuylkill Center. “So many people who move to Roxborough talk about the green spaces,” she said, an important commodity that disappears almost daily due to subdivision and development.

She’s also hoping the Roxborough Historic District will “help maintain the character of the neighborhood. We want a small-town vibe in the big city.”

The Schuylkill Center thanks Jo Ann for joining the core of volunteers who support our critical mission of wildlife rehabilitation. If you’d like to join Jo Ann on the wildlife crew, please email the clinic’s assistant director and volunteer coordinator Chris Strub at chris@schuylkillcenter.org.

 

Kate Farquhar’s Synestates: Art, Nature, and Humans

by Communications Intern Charlotte Roach 
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As you wander the trails of the Schuylkill Center, you may notice some objects that look a little out-of-place. What are those chains doing hanging from those tree branches? What are those white geometric shapes on the surface of Wind Dance Pond? Those objects are art installations, part of our LandLab environmental art residency, created by resident artist Kate Farquhar. Kate is a Philadelphia-based environmental artist and landscape architect with a passion for green design. Her series is called Synestates, and its purpose it to explore how human-made building materials can interact with nature.

pvines, located on Pine Grove Loop, is the first of two works Kate has installed so far. The piece is made out of steel chains, intertwined with capillary fabric and sunbursts of plastic straws, draped over the branches of an Amur cork tree. The purpose of pvines is to encourage a native vine, Virginia creeper, to climb up the chains. Capillary fabric has the special property of being able to wick water upwards against gravity. Thus, the fabric provides the vines with a source of water. 

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In landscape design, rain chains are often used as alternatives to downspouts. Capillary fabric can be used in the building of a plant-covered green wall, which can help insulate a building. Green walls and rain chains are functional, decorative, and artistic, and Kate has brought these materials unexpectedly into nature to help create new habitat. The plastic straws in pvines are arranged in an aesthetically appealing way, and have even become homes for various types of insects like spiders and earwigs. 

The second of Kate’s installations is called dolmbale, located on Wind Dance Pond. It is comprised of dense white foam cut into geometric cubes and pyramids. These shapes parallel the molecular structure of nitrogen, phosphorus, and salt. These three substances cause some of the most significant water pollution issues that Pennsylvania faces. An excess of nutrients in the water causes a huge spike in growth for bacteria and algae in a phenomenon known as an algal bloom. The bacteria and algae consume a lot of oxygen, leading to the water becoming depleted of oxygen for other organisms to use. This is known as hypoxia, and it’s lethal for aquatic life. dolmbale’s goal is to raise awareness of nutrient pollution in waterways. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and salt molecules are far, far too tiny to see, but their effects are massive, and clearly visible to the naked eye. Kate’s work imagines if we could see nutrient molecules themselves in a size that’s proportionate to their impact: huge. 

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To accompany the Styrofoam shapes, Kate collected water quality data on Smith Run (one of two streams on the Schuylkill Center property) as part of a larger citizen science initiative to gather information about water pollution in Pennsylvania. Under smaller versions of her floating cubes, Kate installed leaf packs, which gathered a community of aquatic macroinvertebrates over time. (Aquatic macroinvertebrates = little critters living in the water that you can see unaided, without a microscope). Then, Kate observed, counted, and identified the organisms she caught in the leaf packs. The basis of the method is that some little bugs are more pollution-tolerant than others. For example, leeches can handle just about anything. You may find leeches in filthy, heavily-polluted water, but also in clean water, so the presence of leeches doesn’t definitively indicate clean or dirty water. On the other side of the spectrum, mayflies are delicate little guys, and they need pure, clean water to survive. If you find mayfly larvae in your water, that’s a sure sign the water is relatively free of pollutants. This method is practically universal and can be used to compare pollution levels across regions. It’s not precise, but it’s far more accessible to citizen scientists than expensive machinery. All you need is a body of water, a net, and a key to identify critters. 

The data Kate gathered at the Schuylkill Center can be seen here if you zoom into Philadelphia on the interactive map: https://leafpacknetwork.org/data/ Happily, Smith Run received Good or Excellent scores at all three of her sample sites. Check out Stroud Water Research Center’s Leaf Pack Network to learn more about how you can set up your own leaf pack experiment.

Kate’s third Synestates piece, called urlog, will be installed in late summer 2019. urlog will be “a heap of undead wood manipulated to host new seedlings and native pollinators side-by-side”, in Kate’s words. Look forward to seeing urlog in a few weeks, and in the meantime, come observe pvines on Pine Grove Loop and dolmbale on Wind Dance Pond! Ponder the significance of humans and our by-products in the natural world as you enjoy lovely art and scenery. Also, check out this post for some concept art and behind-the-scenes of Synestates as well as some of Kate’s past work, including a spectacular green roof for Urban Outfitters’ Philly HQ! 

The Buzz on Lanternflies

By Executive Director Mike Weilbacher

A pair of concerned homeowners walked into the Schuylkill Center early last week in a bit of a panic. “We have lanternflies everywhere,” they told Steve Goin, our Director of Land and Facilities. “What do we do?” And many others have been calling our front desk with the same question.

What do we do indeed. Allow me to tell you.

Photo credit: Shawn Riley

Photo credit: Shawn Riley

The newest invasive creature in our backyards, spotted lanternflies were accidentally imported into Berks County from their native southeast Asia in 2014. And in the five years since, with no enemies, they have spread, decimating trees in a wide swath of southeastern Pennsylvania. Blessed with a hypodermic needle for a mouth, they suck the sap out of many different kinds of plants, including apple trees, grapevines, and hops, so farmers, brewers, and vintners, among others, are incredibly worried.

And it’s now that the adults have emerged from the cast-off skins of their baby selves, as insects do, the striking inch-long adults now sporting gray wings with black spots, and bright red underwings hiding beneath, easily seen when they fly—or typically hop—off.

So people are only noticing them now, and as they are still new to our yards, they are receiving a ton of attention. But what should you know about them?

First, they won’t harm you, as they don’t bite or sting.

Next, their host plant—the one they especially like to lay their eggs on, and upon which the flightless young stage pierces with its mouthparts to suck the sap from—is nicknamed “tree-of-heaven,” a fast-growing, widespread, and invasive tree introduced to the US from China in the 1700s; it is the title tree of  “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Caitlyn Johnstone wrote on that group’s website last year, “the plant’s presence creates a welcoming environment for the spread of the invasive bug.”

Here at the Schuylkill Center, we are seeing tree-of-heavens covered in lanternflies, thousands sucking out the sap, all the while excreting drops of “honeydew” from their rear ends, a very sweetened waste product (which can cover our cars, by the way). This honeydew then grows black sooty mold, the mold compromising the trees, which for us is actually doing something of a favor, killing the host plant. 

Photo credit: Shawn Riley

Photo credit: Shawn Riley

“All of our tree-of-heavens are covered in them,” says Andrew Kirkpatrick, our Center’s Manager of Land Stewardship. “These trees are all going to die.”

But if you have a tree-of-heaven in your yard, this might not be a good thing. Some, like the state, recommend killing the critters as you find them. Andrew worried that might be a waste of your time. “If you take the time to kill the ones in your backyard,” he told me, “they’ll soon be replaced by more from your neighbors’ yards.”

Instead, he continued, “if you have a tree-of-heaven in your yard, and you’re concerned about the lanternfly, the best thing to do is to have it removed, because the tree is going to become a hazard. And if you see a lanternfly sucking on a desirable species like oak, maple, or beech,” as the adults to do after they leave their tree-of-heaven home, “then it may be worth having the tree injected with a pesticide that will kill the lanternfly when it tries to feed.”

If you, like me, shy away from pesticides, some suggest attaching sticky bands to the tree bark, the glue grabbing the insects as they walk up the tree to become adults. But Rebecca Michelin, the Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation for our Wildlife Clinic, cautions you here. “We have gotten seven birds [coming to the clinic] from glue traps, the most recent a downy woodpecker. None of the birds survived more than 24 hours. Along with injuries like skin tears and fractures, the enormous stress the birds are subjected to when they are trapped often overwhelms them, despite being provided with supportive care when they are admitted.

“The important thing,” she noted, “is to reduce the chance of bycatch as much as possible by decreasing the surface area of the bands and using mesh or fencing to keep larger animals out. Penn State has a good guide on their website for doing this—but there’s always the risk you will catch something you didn’t intend.” In fact, the extension website shows a photo of the sticky band having caught a ring of young lanternflies, along with a host of other good insects stuck on the glue as well. Even if you avoid catching birds or reptiles, it’s not without risks to other animals. 

Last week, the Schuylkill Center’s summer camp held a new contest, a prize for the camp group that caught the most lanternflies. The winners—the Fantastic Foxes, by the way—caught 76 of the hoppers. In all, our kids caught and killed 120 of them.

The potential economic impact of this insect is still being assessed as it spreads into New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and surrounding states. Stay tuned. But there is yet another new invasive creature in our yards. And yet another ecological worry—as it there weren’t enough already. 

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Hotter, Wetter, Weirder: Philadelphia’s Already-Changing Climate

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Climate change remains in the headlines, as wildfires, flooding, heat waves, ice cap melting, and more dominate the news. But what will happen here in Philly? How will we fare in a rapidly heating world?
As the city’s Office of Sustainability notes in “Growing Stronger: Toward a Climate-Ready Philadelphia,” we have weathered “the snowiest winter, the two warmest summers, the wettest day, the two wettest years, as well as two hurricanes and a derecho” since 2010, the latter an unusual, high-energy storm system. Climate change is teaching us new language.
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And we’re getting hotter. Climate Central reports that Philadelphia’s average annual temperature has increased more than 3° since 1970, higher than the state as a whole (2.4°) or even the U.S. (2.5°). Since 2000, Philadelphia has suffered 58 record high temperatures, but only five record lows. A 2018 Philadelphia Inquirer article reported that our temperatures rarely hit 90° more than 40 times in one year (this happened only twice prior to 1987). But between 1987 and 2017, these severe heat spikes happened seven times and in 2010, the thermometer hit the 90° mark an astonishing 55 times. Climate Central’s data indicates Philadelphia now has 16.8 days of above-normal summer temps. By 2050, our weather will resemble Richmond. By 2100, Brownsville, Texas.
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And wetter. Philadelphia has also seen a 360 percent spike in heavy downpours since 1950. The city received over 61 inches in 2018 and 2019 is already absurdly wet, with a downpour almost daily.
Climate has changed winter, too. Climate Central reports that winters have warmed an average of four degrees since 1970, putting the average winter temperature at about 37°, the highest in our history. Our four largest snowfalls since we began keeping weather records have all been since 1999, including that year’s record 30.7-inch avalanche.
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Five of the largest 10 snowfalls have been in that span as well. A warming climate means more evaporation and with more water in the atmosphere, it sometimes drops as snow.
This warming, weirding climate will impact our health. A 10-day heat wave in 1993 resulted in 118 deaths in our city. Extreme heat is now responsible for more deaths in Pennsylvania than all other natural disasters combined. An average of 50 Pennsylvanians already die annually from the effects of extreme heat, a number that will only increase in a climate-challenged world.
Older adults are especially susceptible to heat waves, as are very young children and low-income people without access to air conditioning. In an aging city with a high poverty rate, heat-related deaths will impact these populations more than the rest.
The Office of Sustainability reports, “hot weather encourages the formation of ground-level ozone, which reduces air quality and poses risks to individuals with respiratory conditions such as asthma. In 2010, nearly a quarter of children in Philadelphia had asthma, among the highest rates in the nation.” Our children will have a harder time breathing in a hotter world.
The crime rate climbs with heat, as does the murder rate—and the suicide rate. A 2018 study published in Nature Climate Change measured the suicide rate against temperature, noting that “unmitigated climate change” could cause between 9,000 and 40,000 additional suicides in the United States by 2050.
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Then there is flooding. The tidal Delaware River has already been rising 0.11 inches per year since 1900. So conservative estimates say that with moderate cutting back of greenhouse gases, the city will see an increase in sea levels of two feet by 2050 and four feet by 2100. With so much of the city built around two rising rivers—the airport, the stadiums, Penn’s Landing, Fishtown, and so much more—a projected rise of four feet essentially drowns all of this.
Changing climate has already impacted our quality of life. As we continue debating long-established facts, we lose something invaluable: time. We continue doing so at our peril.
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Illuminating the Plastic Crisis: Art from Waste at the Schuylkill Center

By: Christina Catanese

 

Recently, plastic has been the object of much attention – environmental news feels saturated with increasing calls for bans on plastic straws and grocery bags; images of dead albatrosses on beaches with stomachs full of bottle caps and other small pieces of plastics mistaken for food; an unfolding crisis in the recycling industry triggered by China’s ban on imports on many recyclables, where most of America’s waste had been shipped for years; and the resultant environmental justice crisis in Chester, where Philadelphia’s recycling was being burned for a time this year. Statistics like “8 million tons of plastics enter the ocean each year” or “240,000 plastic bags are used globally every ten seconds” or “only 10% of all plastics ever produced have been recycled to date” feel utterly overwhelming, and it can feel difficult to know what to do with or about this information.

What if there was a different way to think about plastic – through beauty, and through celebrating rather than lamenting its durability? If we saw this material as precious and valuable, rather than disposable, would we reduce how much plastic we are using and throwing away? This is part of the message of the artist behind the Schuylkill Center’s summer exhibition.

Aglow features artworks created by Aurora Robson from industrial plastic debris, illuminated from within by LED lights. Along with the immersive installation in our environmental art gallery, Robson presents three outdoor sculptures around the Visitor Center.

Intercepting her materials from the waste stream, Robson transforms discarded plastic into mesmerizing, bold sculptures that disguise and transcend their material. Drawing attention to the global challenge of single-use waste, Robson seeks to imbue these often overlooked materials with care and intention, encouraging a viewer to consider their own relationship with waste and the waterways where it so often is discarded.

“People are so confused about plastic,” says Robson. “They think of it as disposable when it is precisely the opposite.” Plastic’s resistance to weathering and decay means it can last hundreds to thousands of years in the environment. This quality, along with the extreme volume of our current consumption and disposal of plastic, makes it a nightmare for the planet, but at the same time an untapped resource for artists. Along with other valuable qualities for sculpture like translucence and pliability, it is durable and almost automatically archival – an art conservator’s dream material.

Robson is a leading voice advocating for artists to be more conscious of the environmental footprint left by their art making. Besides shipping, her work is close to carbon neutral, made only from discarded or difficult-to-recycle materials. Her inquiry into the potential of plastic as art material has extended beyond her own art practice; she also offers courses and workshops on safety and best practices in low-impact artwork, as well as leads stream clean up efforts to source materials for sculpture out of local waterways and shorelines.

Many of the works in this exhibition are made from decommissioned highway safety drums and industrial detergent barrels, which are almost always sent to a landfill after their use, but which Robson here has cleaned, cut, welded, and transformed. Though the warm-toned organic shapes are abstract, they call to mind creatures of the ocean, some of the most impacted organisms of the plastic crisis.

 

Robson’s work presents a way of looking at plastic that goes beyond simply recycling more. It is activist work, in that it is an active response to a global challenge which activates our imaginations around creative solutions. The work in Aglow (literally) illuminates and alerts, but also plays its part to stem the tide of plastic waste streaming into the environment, where it will stay for centuries, threatening our health, choking ecosystems, contributing to climate change, and marking our human presence in the geologic record.

Aglow is on view in the Schuylkill Center’s art gallery and trails now through August 27, 2019. Join us on June 6 from 7-9pm for a reception with the artist and a guided tour of the exhibition at dusk. This exhibition is supported by the Joseph Robert Foundation.

Christina Catanese directs the Schuylkill Center’s Environmental Art program and can be reached at christina@schulkillcenter.org. For more information on the environmental art program, visit www.schuylkillcenter.org.

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New Program Opens for Two-Year-Olds

Imagine witnessing a child’s love of nature unfurl through a series of moments: the first time they hold a wiggling earthworm, hear a warbler call, or watch frogs scurry into a pond. These experiences play into the sensory needs of young children and help to bolster their language, fine and gross motor skills, and cognitive abilities. For the first time this spring, we are offering this curriculum to children ages 25–36 months through Fledglings, a “watch-me-fly” program for children and caregivers.

This five-week series will use walks and wanders, songs, stories, and art to tap into children’s innate interest in the natural world. Each week will focus on a different theme as we explore meadows, ponds, and forests. We will also offer an optional Reader’s Club, which includes weekly books to encourage your child’s continued growth and curiosity. Through this program, we invite caregivers to join their children in creating nature-based memories or relax nearby as children develop a passion for and understanding of the natural world.

Since Nature Preschool started in 2013, we’ve connected over 700 children to the outdoors through child-centered, inquiry-based learning. We can’t wait to offer this opportunity to littler ones as well.