Searching for the Delaware Valley’s Green Giants

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director, @SCEEMike 

Almost 50 years after her too-soon death from cancer, Rachel Carson still inspires the environmental community.  Pennsylvania’s gift to environmental thinking, Carson’s groundbreaking Silent Spring jumpstarted the modern environmental movement—and every green book published since has been compared (unfavorably) to it.

In fact, she casts such a long shadow that most environmental centers still talk about programming that “produces the next Rachel Carson.”  That is our highest goal; she is our Holy Grail.

Every year, the Schuylkill Center honors an environmental leader with our Henry Meigs Environmental Leadership Award, named for one of our founders, a delightful gentlemen who, just after Silent Spring came out, envisioned a nature center on these hundreds of acres—and shepherded the organization through its growth pains over the next 30 years as a board member.

Without Henry, odds are high we would not exist. 

And for us, presenting the Meigs Award annually acknowledges the region’s Rachel Carsons, as we are blessed with an abundance of great people doing extraordinary work.  Here are three.

Bob Mercer, 2015 Meigs Award WinnerBob Mercer

Last year’s honoree, Bob directed the Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol for 40 years, retiring in 2015.  The dean of area nature center directors, he expanded the number of acres under Silver Lake’s care, built its modern education center, staying long enough to renovate it, created a friends group that raises most of the center’s budget, and grew its staff.  A founding member of the American Association of Nature Center Administrators, the professional organization for center directors, Bob consulted at many centers across the country and wrote several ANCA handbooks on best practices.  On top of all this, his people simply loved working for him.

Dr. Ann Fowler Rhoads, 2014 Meigs Award WinnerDr. Ann Fowler Rhoads

In 2014, we presented the Meigs Award to Dr. Ann Fowler Rhoads, a legend among the region’s ecological scientists.  A Penn botany professor and longtime Morris Arboretum botanist, she co-authored such seminal books as The Plants of Pennsylvania, the Bible of state plant life.  Having personally catalogued 14,000 Pennsylvania plants, she has been conducting research determining the status of rare and endangered species, tracking invasive non-natives, and documenting changes in the state’s plant community.

Thomas Dolan IV, 2013 Meigs AwardThomas Dolan IV

Freshwater ecologist Thomas Dolan IV was honored in 2013.  In 1948, a very young Tom joined pioneering ecologist Ruth Patrick at the Academy of Natural Sciences to help her design a protocol for using aquatic life to measure ecosystem health—a method now used worldwide.  He spent 17 years on the board of Philadelphia Conservationists, the group that became Natural Lands Trust, helping lead the legendary fight to preserve Tinicum as a national refuge. In 1969, helped create the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, now a major player in environmental policy, and was a key member of the boards of the Philadelphia Zoo and the Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania chapter.  He also served as an early director of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association.  In a long career, he accomplished an unbelievable amount.

This year, we are again looking for a few good Rachel Carsons.  So who’s your favorite environmental leader, your green hero, your Henry Meigs?

Nominate them by clicking here.