Dear 2040: Riverbend Environmental Education Center Imagines the future

By the staff of the Riverbend Environmental Education Center

RB Staff FullSizeRenderDear Friends of 2040,

We at Riverbend Environmental Education Center in Gladwyne, PA, hope the future finds you well. Living in 2015, we hear reports of melting polar ice caps and experience an increasing number of violent storms. Perspiration trickles down our necks as we work through higher summer temperatures. Climate scientists tells us that global climate change will have accelerated over 25 years. While the Western United States and many parts of the world are projected to be drier and hotter, we imagine our already very-green corner of Southeastern Pennsylvania will be even warmer and wetter.

Yet we like to think positively. After all – we’re in the business of investing in children and our future. Riverbend’s mission is to teach children environmental principles through a direct connection with nature. Our goal is to inspire respect for the natural world and action as aware, responsible, and caring citizens. In 2014, our center had nearly 20,000 visits from and to school students — 65% of whom were from underserved communities in Norristown, Philadelphia, and nearby communities. If we did our work well, we will have inspired a lifetime passion in others for protecting the natural world. It is our hope that many of our diverse young learners are now diverse young leaders — actively working to solve the environmental problems of 2040. Environmental educators, scientists, and policy advocates are predominantly white in 2015. Yet at Riverbend we believe that increasing this movement’s diversity will strengthen it and give us the wider perspectives needed to tackle tough problems affecting all of us.

With fossil fuel used for transportation at a premium and with global issues of water scarcity and food costs likely to be of even greater concern in 2040, we imagine that environmental education may now be a requirement in schools. Those of us who deliver this education well will be called upon to provide expertise and proven education methods to all children in the region with in-school curriculum and teacher training complemented by on-site visits for experiential learning. Outside of school, environmental education centers and nature centers, will be sought-after havens for the many families who long for authentic nature experiences and who seek respite from an increasingly artificial world.

In 2015 Riverbend launched our Aquaponics Program, the first of its kind in the region.  Aquaponics is the science of growing food crops and fish in an integrated, self-sustaining system. Perhaps we don’t need to explain to you what aquaponics is. Perhaps it is as common as gas stations are in 2015. It is our dream that our aquaponics program, aimed at facilitating scientific inquiry, has inspired the implementation of larger-scale projects that address food security. Aquaponics, for example, uses only 10% of the water used by traditional agriculture and it can be done in compact, indoor growing spaces. This makes aquaponics practical for urban and suburban farming. It is our hope that growing food locally on a much larger scale will reduce high transportation costs and negative environmental impacts.

As we zoom out from our corner, we imagine that abundant water resources will make Pennsylvania attractive to businesses and employees. Perhaps some of you relocated to this region in order to benefit from lower costs associated with plentiful water and compact, walkable communities. We imagine public transit and zoning laws will need to keep pace with increased population density – and dense it will be. Most new developments will consist of apartment-style housing with electric car hookups, green roofs, geothermal heating, trail connections, and public courtyards with native plantings. The current trend of spending less time on yard work and more time in public spaces will increase the use of public parks, nature centers, and environmental education centers.

Blessed with water and even more abundant vegetation, the population will grow in the city center and Philadelphia will be celebrated and visited for all things green and water-related including the Water Works, Fairmount Park, Wissahickon Valley Park, and the canals of Manayunk and Mont Clare.

We hope you are enjoying expanded parks, creeks for kayaking, and an extensive network of trails. They were already pretty good in 2015, a year when Pennsylvania has the second highest number of trails in the U.S. We are third in fly fishing waters, ninth in kayaking arenas, and fifth in the number of national parks. The Schuylkill River Trail was voted the number one urban trail in the U.S. We hope you are enjoying its completed route from Philadelphia to Pottsville, with spur trails taking travelers to parks, cafes, and best of all — to environmental education centers.

Best wishes to all,

Riverbend Environmental Education Center

Editor’s Note: Dear 2040 is a series of blog posts containing some of the letters included in our 50th anniversary time capsule, buried in October 2015.  Throughout the rest of 2015 we’ll be posting some of those letters, sharing what our leaders, thinkers, artists, and Schuylkill Center staff are thinking about the year 2040.  You can read all the posts here.

Dear 2040: Damien Ruffner wonders about the future

By Damien Ruffner, Program Coordinator: Camps & Afterschool

October 2, 2015

Damien RuffnerDear Future Program Coordinator: Camps & Afterschool,

I hope this letter finds you well. As I sit here wondering what 2040 will look like at the Schuylkill Center, I can’t help but wonder if even the position will exist in that year. I have been here exactly three years as I write this and my title has changed three times in as many years. So I imagine it will continue to grow and evolve as the programing we offer moves forward.

I’m not sure if compensation time will still be in the handbook in 25 years, but I hope it is. Because this position requires a lot of it! I’ve worked 10 hour days, 14 hour days, I’ve slept here at the center, and I’ve worked overnights with kids for 3 or 5 days at a time. The position requires so much energy and dedication. But in my opinion it is clearly the best position to have here. No one does more fun stuff than I get to do. Kayaking, canoeing, parasailing, standup paddle boarding, camping at the most beautiful spots the mid-Atlantic region has to offer. And all of this doesn’t come close to the best part of my job, the kids. I am in the unique position where I not only get to see kids grow, I get to help in the process. Shaping the young minds of the future is such a satisfying thing for me. I’ve been here 3 full years now and have seen some small kids grow into young adult and mature right before my eyes. And my heart swells every time I think of each and every one of them. I hope you love this place as much as I do. I hope you love the early mornings. Mornings when you’re the first one here, working a 10 hour day-off camp and closing the building after everyone has left. Those are the days I’ll remember the most. Those are the days where your dedication and determination will be the only thing you have to rely on. But even with those long days, you get so much more out of the center than you put into it. Working a 10 or 12 hour day would be torture if it was in a hospital, or some corporate office. But here, on these 340 acres, it’s paradise. I hope you take advantage of the outdoor space. Take walks alone. Sit and just be in the presence of nature.

Another perk of my position is I get to work with such a wide range of the community. On a Monday, I might work with a group of Kindergarten students for a “first look at a pond” lesson. Tuesday I’ll work with an AP biology class on water quality and ethical water use. Wednesday I’ll work with a wide range age group from the Philadelphia School teaching about seeds. Then on Thursday and Friday, I’ll run day off camps for 5-12 year olds and take field trips to local outdoor and educational spaces. And finally on Friday night, run a stargazing event for 100+ adults looking to learn a little bit more about our world (And other worlds). It may seem overwhelming at first to think of such a diverse group that you have to reach. But it comes in waves. I started with just one group: our afterschool program, the Monkey-Tail gang. Then as things became more comfortable, more was added to my plate.

I get to be outside every single day. Not most days, not some days, all of them. I think about some positions here and they might spend the entire day indoors. And I feel for those people. If the position evolves to a point where you are stuck inside daily, I beg you to take a step outside every day. I see little point in working in such a magical place without experiencing it daily yourself. Reset with the natural world around you.

Good luck with all of your programming. I can’t imagine the types of programming you’ll offer in 25 years, But I’ll come back and visit. Maybe even my own kids will be a part of it? Who knows?

Damien Ruffner
Program Coordinator: Camps & Afterschool

Editor’s Note: Dear 2040 is a series of blog posts containing some of the letters included in our 50th anniversary time capsule, buried in October 2015.  Throughout the rest of 2015 we’ll be posting some of those letters, sharing what our leaders, thinkers, artists, and Schuylkill Center staff are thinking about the year 2040.  You can read all the posts here.

Dear 2040: From Judy Wicks

By Judy Wicks, founder of the White Dog Cafe

Dear citizens of the world in 2040,

If you are able to read this letter, I am relieved.  I have been worrying about you  – you the children of our children’s children – because today’s humans, your ancestors, are endangering your future by destroying the natural systems your lives will depend upon.  When I watch how other species care for their young – from gorillas to penguins to whales – I see how willing they are to give their very lives to secure a safe future for the next generation. Yet we humans, at least affluent Americans, seem more concerned with having a lot of stuff in our big houses than making sure that you will have the basics for a healthy life – clean air and water, healthy forests, rich soil to grow food, abundant river and sea life, a hospitable climate. Continue reading

Dear 2040: Melissa Nase on a greener Philadelphia

By Melissa Nase, Manager of Land Stewardship

October 10, 2015

Melissa NaseDear Future Land Stewardship Manager,

I hope that you are reading this full of positivity and empowerment.  There is a certain developing momentum now – urban gardening, native plants, the value of getting outdoors – and my hope is that these past 25 years have been full of a growing environmental awareness throughout the Philadelphia region and the world, with movements rising up from small community groups as well as developing from our political leaders.

My hope is that Philadelphia will take the lead in emphasizing environmental policies, creating a new standard for sustainability and the integration of nature into urban environments.  That they will begin emphasizing native plants, adding oaks and redbuds as street trees to replace the non-native gingko and Bradford pears.  What if, by 2040, Philadelphia is known for its tree-lined streets and becomes a model for crime reduction methods:  through planting trees and introducing natural areas into locations that were formerly vacant lots and concrete.  The city can create systemic changes that influence air quality, crime rates, and happiness and it all starts by adding trees to our city blocks.  I hope the city is safer, cooler, and more inviting.  I hope it is ready to manage climate change.  Continue reading

Dear 2040: Diane Burko on art, the earth, and 2040

By Diane Burko


What our global environment in general and Philadelphia in particular will look like all depends on how and IF the public heeds the dire warnings about Climate Change all around us now in 2015. Today’s global temperature data keep 2015 as hottest year to date. When surface temperatures are combined with ocean heat content, scientists chart warming continuing at a rapid rate. On Tuesday, March 24, the temperature in Antarctica rose to 63.5°F – a record for the polar continent. More glaciers than ever are retreating throughout the world. Storms and droughts are more severe and sea levels are rising, threatening many coastal cites here in the US and around the world.

As someone who (incredulously) will be celebrating her 70th birthday this year I can’t help but wonder if I will be around to see that capsule opened… and if all my efforts and those of so many others will have made a difference to the survival of our planet.

I have to believe in the affirmative – that my artistic practice – creating meaningful compelling imagery at the intersection of Art and Science will succeed as an antidote to doubt. My expeditions to the Polar Regions to bear witness to the melting of glaciers in our world serve to inform my practice as well as to communicate the scientific facts to a range of audiences. I bring my ideas to whomever calls, whether it be  4th grade classroom at Friends Central, The Russell Byers Charter School, the Nature Conservancy in Lake George or the Atlantic Council think tank in DC.

My message is clear and compelling.  I try to make my images as powerful. When speaking about my work I relate it to my own personal journey of how, as a lifelong landscape artist I realized about ten years ago that I had to do more than just present beautiful images of monumental geological phenomena throughout the world.  Global warming was already in the public consciousness with Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and Elizabeth Kolbert’s Notebook on a Catastrophe. I was moved to join that conversation.  I developed visual strategies to make my work relevant to the cause. With that decision has come a more purposeful existence and hope for the future.

I want the future to hold promise for my grandchildren and their grandchildren.  I want them to grow up on planet earth which is no longer on the brink of extinction due to increasing levels of CO2 and methane in our atmosphere.

I have to believe that the sleeping public will finally be aroused to change course and abandon the fossil fuel dependency that is sending us into the abyss.

Diane Burko,

August 12, 2015

Editor’s Note: Dear 2040 is a series of blog posts containing some of the letters included in our 50th anniversary time capsule, buried in October 2015.  Throughout the rest of 2015 we’ll be posting some of those letters, sharing what our leaders, thinkers, artists, and Schuylkill Center staff are thinking about the year 2040.  You can read all the posts here.

Stacy Levy

Dear 2040: From an ecologically-minded artist

By Stacy Levy

To be Opened in 25 years: A letter from an ecologically-minded artist
Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education Time Capsule

What does your world look like? I am sitting at a table in the rain 25 years ago, writing in pen on a pad of paper— already an outdated method for wrangling words in my day.  The rain is falling and it feels natural and normal to hear the pattering sound of the drops on the roof.  Will rainfall be considered with such comfort and coziness for you?

These same molecules of water could be raining on you as you read this.  The drops I hear will roll in into the sea and churn in ocean currents and be transported to the clouds by evaporation and return to earth as rain.  I wonder if rain will be considered precious— will it be valued for its life-giving force rather than being perceived as an inconvenience?  Will you be living with nature more as an ally and less as an entity that cannot be fully embraced?  Will your buildings and parking lots and passages collaborate with nature or will you still be living with nature at arm’s length?   From here I worry that the human relationship with nature will continue to be strained, even more so as the climate changes and rain falls erratically and with greater force.  Continue reading

Dear 2040: Climate change activist Richard Whiteford thinks about the future

By Richard Whiteford

Hello. My name is Richard Whiteford. I’m writing to you on August 24, 2015. I’ll turn 69 next month so, if I live to be 94, there’s an outside chance that I can be there when you open this capsule.

In my lifetime I’ve watched humans destroy the world’s biological diversity to the point of increasing the extinction rate to 1000 times the natural background rate from habitat loss and climate change. For instance, fish populations are crashing, agricultural areas worldwide are being decimated by extreme droughts. Many rivers are running dry from the loss of glacial feed. Insect infestations and wildfires are destroying forests because of climate change. Continue reading