Children Need Nature: Fort building as a way to connect

By Alyssa Maley, Nature Preschool Teacher

When you think back on your childhood memories what stands out to you? Perhaps it was a less complicated life where you spent most of your day playing outside, when you were not bombarded with technology at the end of your fingertips. More and more parents are actively seeking out educational programs that match this outside nature component of their childhood memories. They are quickly becoming aware of technology, and the sedentary life it provides for their children through interacting with iPads, computers, and gaming systems. The excessive use of technology in the home drives a disconnection between both children and parents on a socially. As a new parent myself, I am concerned with the amount of screen time that my child may encounter daily. I want my daughter to appreciate the wonders of nature and all of the unique play opportunities it provides. It saddens my heart that the concept of building forts has been successfully buried under the accessibility of technology. So what can be done to connect parents and children in a more authentic way and while simultaneously bringing playing out in nature back into the fold? Continue reading

coyote 1

Coyotes in Roxborough? Absolutely

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Early in my time here at the Schuylkill Center, a neighbor who lives close to our sweeping Upper Roxborough property gave me a call one day. It was not the phone conversation I expected.

“Mike,” he said with concern in his voice. “I spotted a coyote walking down my driveway the other night. “

“Wow,” I stupidly answered, “that’s great. I’m not sure anyone here has seen one yet.”

He wasn’t as excited as me. “What are you going to do about it?” he challenged.

Ah, of course. He’s worried about his dog, as I believe his pet is a smaller-sized animal that might be a tempting target for a hungry coyote.  I replied that we’d be on the lookout, but there was little else we could do. Keep the dog on a leash, and keep it near you. Continue reading

Abby Williams

2017 Winter Photo Contest Winners

We loved your submissions for the 2017 Winter Photo Contest– many lovely photos of happy critters, icy plants, and dreamy landscapes came in, but we’ve managed to narrow the dozens we received down to a few winners. Thank you to everyone who submitted a photo!

Anna, Jenny and Liz weigh in on our finalists below:


Abby Williams

Abby WilliamsI gasped when 18-year-old Abby Williams submitted this stunning portrait. Black and white perfectly captures the texture of the fallen snowflakes against dark hair. The ice around her chin is so visceral I can almost feel the familiar sting of an icy scarf brushing against soft winter skin. What a fierce look—we might as well declare this model a contest winner, too. – Jenny

Walking in Winter, Caileigh Mahan

Caileigh Mahan, Walking in Winter

Even in a big city, one can find a quiet, still moment by stepping into newly fallen snow and seeing familiar surroundings as if they were brand new. – Liz

Georgia Young

Georgia Young

Georgia Young’s photo of a conifer in the snow captures the luminosity and stillness of new snow. A shallow depth of field draws the viewer in, creating an intimate view of the delicate dusting of snow in the foreground. – Anna


Estelle Atkinson

Estelle Atkinson

Love the way the splintering light showcases these lively winter thorns.

Richele Dillard

Hover Fly, Witch Hazel, Richele DillardBrilliant macro of this resilient winter pollinator(that’s a Hoverfly!) on witch hazel by Richele Dillard.

Rebecca Dhondt

Cresheim Creek, Rebecca DhondtFun at Cresheim Creek!

Staci Vernick

Staci VernickHappy to see this little critter doing what they need to do to survive!

Children playing in field

My Path to Nature Education

By Nicole Brin, Sycamore Classroom Lead Teacher

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by Pennsylvania Land Trust Association for their series on conserved lands, like the Schuylkill Center, in communities around the state.

Rows of stuffed animals- bears, bunnies, dogs, lions- all lined up in the grass of my suburban Connecticut backyard as they got ready to start their school day. Their teacher, eight-year-old me, prepared to teach them all the things that I already knew in the wisdom of my few childhood years. I made attendance sheets, created lesson, and planned field trips to the garden behind our shed. I knew that one day I’d be a real teacher, sharing all the cool things I loved about life. Continue reading

Hidden Life of a Toad Cover

Book Review: The Hidden Life of a Toad

By Claire Morgan, Volunteer Coordinator

Doug Wechsler’s children’s book The Hidden Life of a Toad (Charlesbridge, hardcover, 2017), released just this week, explores what happens in this mysterious process called metamorphosis – from eggs to tadpoles, tadpoles to toads. Amazing photos and descriptions walk you through this phenomenon day-by-day. Doug has witnessed the annual event of toad migration that takes place each spring at the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve, across the street from the Schuylkill Center, where they spend the winter in the forest. Each year volunteers gather for Toad Detour, a citizen scientists program to help the toads to safety cross the road, at Hagy’s Mill Road and Port Royal Avenue, to get to their spring breeding grounds. It is not unusual to see Doug on the ground focusing his camera and waiting for the perfect photo of the American Toad as they cross the road. As volunteer coordinator, I’ve spent the past six springs helping toads cross Port Royal Ave – and educating volunteers and the public about this Roxborough phenomenon. Still, I learned lots of things about the American Toad by reading this book!

We always knew some of the basics from watching toads come out of the woods and cross the road to get to the other side, which in this case was the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve. We knew they loved that shallow water in which to lay their eggs. We knew the males would often follow the females toward the breeding ground and sometimes catch a ride along the way by finding the female of their choice before crossing the road. Continue reading

Offshoot trail to Winddance Pond

A Natural Way to Start the Day

By Donna M. Struck, Director of Finance and Administration

In my eight and a half years as a staff member at the Center, I have seen a great deal of positive change.  One of my favorite changes of recent past is the addition of what we call the “Hagy’s Mill Parking Lot.”

Hagys Mill TrailheadThe lot’s primary purpose is to provide parking for visitors during times when the main entrance gate is locked, such as on Sundays when the Visitor Center is closed.  One day soon after the lot was finished, my colleague, Anna Lehr Mueser, suggested that we could park our cars there in the morning and walk the trails for the half-mile stroll to our Visitor Center.  As someone who drives just shy of one hour to get to the Center, I thought this was a brilliant idea!  What better way to decompress from a traffic-ridden commute than to experience the calm and peace of a forest that has only recently woken up for the day.  Hearing the roosters crow at the Urban Girls farm, listening to the sound of your own footsteps on the forest floor, and feeling the crisp winter air in your lungs are just a few of the sensory delights of this stroll.   As someone who loves looking up into the sky, observing the sun through the trees on bright days and the gray clouds above the forest during overcast skies is always a source of inspiration and wonder.  But a personal highlight is inhaling the scent of the Pine Grove as I saunter by.  The Pine Grove is probably my favorite place in our 340 acres; it is peaceful and welcoming and always makes me want to take deep inhales.  What a way to start the day! Continue reading

Bill Botzow

Combating a Natural Enemy

By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & Public Relations Intern

P1020138Restoring, protecting, and preserving nature is no small task, and when that land is comprised of worn-out farmland overwhelmed with invasive species, the job becomes even more of a challenge. Artist Bill Botzow realized this when he visited the Schuylkill Center in 2002, stating, “The Center’s commitment to restoring the land while educating the public is impressive and I would like to contribute to support that effort by highlighting some of the Center’s environmental restoration practices and strategies.”

Botzow observed and quickly learned about the main challenge the Center faces; invasive species. He decided to create three wooden structures, titled En, In, Ex-Closure.  Comprised of natural and native materials, each served different ecosystems and addressed this large problem. Continue reading

Schuylkill Wildlife Rehab

For love of birds

By Michele Wellard, Manager of Wildlife Rehabilitation

Somehow, I’ve become one of only two licensed wildlife rehabilators in four counties, including Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware and Chester. How did I get here?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, living in London, England, I worked in social services. Although I loved my social services work, something was missing, and also, I was obsessed by birds. More than once I was caught by a boss with an injured pigeon on my desk, waiting for me to drop it off at a rehabber on my way home. On weekends, I’d go to Blackheath, a huge field, and feed the crows the scraps my mother-in-law had saved up for me.  One time at work, I left a group session of unemployed adults I was teaching, to run outside and pick up a crow who had been hit by a car while I watched from the window.

When my British husband and I moved to the USA in 2007, we settled in Manayunk, in Northwest Philadelphia. Soon after, many people I met in the neighborhood said the same thing to me – “You love birds? You love animals? You should check out the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center! You should go volunteer!”

My husband and I became members of the Schuylkill Center, and soon started attending events. We attended the “Owl Prowl”, an event that shows off our clinic’s owls. At the Owl Prowl, I saw the Director, Rick Schubert, and some of his volunteers and, more importantly, I met Loki, an Eastern Screech Owl. Loki was an education ambassador– which is what we call the animals who live permanently at our clinic and who come out for educational programs. I fell in love.  I was transfixed by his wide eyes, beautiful feathers, and gentle countenance.   At the end of the program, I rushed to the volunteers and begged: “How can I volunteer? How can I get involved?” They gave me info on the next clinic volunteer orientation; I attended, and became a volunteer. To volunteer at the clinic, no experience is necessary; only a desire to work hard, learn, and get dirty, and abide by the clinic rules. I was certainly ready for that.

When I started feeding baby birds, and helping the rehab director with injured animals, I knew I had found my home. And I was in the right place at the right time: soon after I became a volunteer, the clinic was looking for an assistant rehabilitator, a position I was delighted to get. During apprenticeship model of training, I worked under the director’s tutelage and also his permits, while he taught me everything I need to know: medicines, biology, nutrition, anatomy, housing and husbandry, and helping people who bring animals to the clinic.

To help Rick run the clinic most effectively, and once I had enough experience, we decided it was appropriate for me to pursue the knowledge and credentials of the Wildlife Rehabilitation licensing system, so that I could work at the clinic with my own license. To become a licensed rehabilitator in Pennsylvania, one must have at least two years’ experience, have a person who already holds the license as a sponsor, and have a veterinarian sponsor.  We have several volunteer veterinarians at the clinic with whom we work closely, and one of them gladly wrote my letters of recommendation.

In 2010, I drove to Reading, Pennsylvania to take my first wildlife rehabilitator licensing exam  – Passerine, which covers passerines (songbirds) and waterfowl. To pass this exam, I needed to know biology, anatomy, diseases, drug dosages, medical math, fluid therapy, nutrition and calorie calculation, and all the technical aspects of raising baby birds. When I passed my written exam, I sat for an oral interview with the members of the Game Commission’s council for wildlife rehabilitation. They grilled me on all aspects of rehabilitation, and our facilities and procedures, and granted me my first license.  Two years later, I took the exam to get my qualification to rehabilitate raptors.

Loki, the screech owl who was my inspiration, is still at the clinic, but he is growing old, and we describe him now as “Educator Emeritus”. He’s retired from education programs and will have a home at the clinic for the rest of his life.  But I will still always credit that owl with giving me the spark and motivation to pursue this career, and finally, in my 40s, to find the life’s work I was always meant to be doing. I have now been working in rehabilitation for almost 10 years, and I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. It’s my life blood.

Michele and Loki then and now



Field Guide: Know Your Evergreens

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art & PR Intern

Enjoy our mobile field guide as you walk, hike and play in the fall forests. Wintertime has got me cherishing the bits of green left around the forest here at the Schuylkill Center. On our monthly staff walk the other day (after perhaps the last snowfall of the season), the white backdrop over our dips and hills made it easy to spot evergreens throughout the trails. Of course, our beloved and fragrant Pine Grove is thriving, and we shared knowledge about the kinds of conifers and other evergreens that live with us around here.

See other Field Guide posts here.

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)


Despite its common name, eastern redcedar is actually a juniper tree, sometimes called a Virginia juniper. This one sits right outside the Visitor Center next to our solar panels at Fire Pond. Eastern redcedar is a native plant to the region, often one of the early colonizers of meadowlands.

Juniperus virginiana

Juniperus virginiana

In the colder months, this evergreen is actually quite red, while in the warmer seasons, the foliage turns a more vivid green. They smell so good but be careful, because this evergreen has little prickly bits at the base of their leaf clusters! Sometimes, this tree’s turned into incense and burned for ritual purification.

American Holly (Ilex opaca)

Ilex opaca

Ilex opaca

Ilex opaca

American Holly is pretty easy to identify, one of the most common evergreen varieties that isn’t a part of the pine family. Notice their spiny teeth, shiny, leathery surface, and smooth and sometimes spotted greenish bark. This American Holly is a male tree, but its female counterpart will bear the iconic red holly berry fruit, often seen in seasonal displays around the holidays.

White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Pinus strobus


Elissa explaining  her helpful trick to identify a White Pine—pick off a little leaf cluster and count the needles… 1-2-3-4-5 correlates to W-H-I-T-E!

One needle for each of the five letters in its namesake, pinus strobus is the only five-needled eastern pine.

Pinus strobus

White pine is one of the two pine species in our Pine Grove at the Center. Because of the invasion of the white pines with white pine weevils, who invade the terminal branch of these trees, they’ve become multi-branch pines. The Pine Grove was originally planted as a lumber initiative, but because of these pests, luckily these trees are no longer desirable for logging!

Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana)

Pinus virginiana

ed with a female va pine

Ed with female Virginia pine cones

The other pine in our grove is the Virginia Pine, which can thrive even in the most inhospitable of soil, hence their colloquial name, Scrub Pine. On our walk, Eduardo gave me a little lesson on how to identify male and female pine cones. Female pine cones tend to be round and stout, while male pine cones grow more elongated and cylindrical on lower branches. Female cones grow in the upper branches of most conifers, where they may be fertilized by pollen blown on the wind.

Pinus virginiana

You can tell if you’ve found a Virginia Pine if the needles are clustered in bunches of two, as opposed to the five-needle clusters of their White Pine neighbors. Pinus virginiana is also sometimes referred to as Jersey Pine, representing the northern end of their typical growing region.

Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens)

Picea pungens

Picea pungens

Picea pungens against winter skyPicea pungens

As you might have guessed from its name, the Colorado Blue Spruce is non-native to our region, and is often planted as an ornamental specimen, as is the case for this one in Founder’s Grove. The outer edges of this conifer are where you’ll find the bluer bits of its foliage, which blend oh so beautifully into the background of a pale mid-winter sky.

Investigate & Create: My Experience at the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education’s Annual Conference


By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

I recently had the opportunity to attend a great conference, the annual gathering of the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE), which this year focused on the theme of integrating the arts into environmental education.

Miss Martha Shaum’s handmade knit jellyfish at the auction

The conference occurred on February 4th, but the beginning of this story actually goes back to January 2015.  At the time, the idea of an arts-flavored conference for environmental educators was just a glimmer in the eye of John Sandkuhler, a MAEOE board member who had long been involved in organizing the MAEOE conference.  John reached out to me early in their process of proposing this idea, to talk about how we at the Schuylkill Center had integrated environmental art into our programming and to pick my brain about potential artists and organizations that could be involved in the effort. Continue reading