The Schuylkill Center’s Year of Restoration

Many hands make restoration possible. Join our Restoration Work Day.

We have named 2022 as our Year of Restoration, dedicating our programming to restoring so many things, starting with the forest habitat that our nature center calls home. But we are also looking to restore our climate, the planet in total, and several things lost in pandemic confusion: our sense of awe and a balance in our relationships with nature and each other.

The 11th annual Richard L. James Lecture, named for our founding director, will be held virtually in March and will focus on restoring the majestic American chestnut tree– slammed by a novel fungal blight in the early 1900s– to Pennsylvania forests, and will feature The American Chestnut Foundation‘s Director of Restoration.

Our beloved Pine Grove, a massing of mature white pines we planted in the 1970s and mightily whacked by a 2020 derecho—a climate-fueled high-energy straight-line windstorm—will benefit from the year: the piles of tree trunks left in the wind’s aftermath will become raw material for the Environmental Art department to invite area sculptors, woodworkers, and others to create inspired sculptures that we share with you.

In the spring, look for a series of Restoration Stations to pop up across the property. These are outdoor exhibits where you can stop and interactively learn something new about a different feature of restoration: native plant species, native bees and other pollinators, monarch butterflies, amphibians, migratory birds, ash trees, box turtles… Which will they be? Come see!

We’ll unveil the first Restoration Stations at Naturepalooza, our annual Earth Day festival, which this year becomes a Celebration of Restoration. Both the spring and fall semesters of Thursday Night Live, our popular online conversations, will skew heavily in this direction— look for the new semester in March and April. 

The Center will focus our 2022 habitat restoration efforts along the Wildflower Loop, the deer exclosure area begun circa 2000 that requires constant TLC: new and better fencing, more native plantings, a degraded meadow and pond to restore, and more. We’ll also build a monarch way station on our site, one formally certified by Monarch Watch, and replace a series of bluebird boxes that provide nesting sites for more than bluebirds—tree swallows and small mammals like them too.

“The Wildlife Clinic’s work is by nature restorative,” offers clinic director Chris Strub, “restoring wildlife to their natural habitats and restoring the public’s connection with wildlife through direct rescue efforts.” On top of this, we will work with volunteers and staff to install a Wildlife Garden inside one of its old outdoor cages, using the cage to protect the plants from deer, rabbits, woodchucks, and more. “We’ll grow native plants that make the food wildlife eat,” (think berries and nuts) says Chris, “as well as domestic plants for our patients, like lettuce.”

The clinic will also continue its partnership with Audubon chapters and the Bird Safe Philly, as our clinic is the official drop-off site for migratory birds found stunned when they hit Center City skyscrapers, and we will focus your attention on this important program this year too.

Our next two art exhibitions, the current one by Black artist Makeba Rainey and Filipino-American artist Maria Dumlao, will feature numerous installations and events focusing on the restorative powers of nature, especially for communities of color.

Our Nature Preschool already raises mealworms to feed to the clinic’s bird patients, and will continue this practice, while growing trees from seeds to plant in our forest and collecting acorns and nuts to bring to the clinic. They’ll even assist us in many of the projects noted above.

We’ll end the year in another now longstanding tradition, presenting a restoration-flavored Henry Meigs Environmental Leadership Award to… ah, we’ll be asking you for nominees in the spring.

You can join in the fun: our monthly Restoration Work Groups for volunteers will have a special urgency in 2022. And restore homes for wildlife by putting up bird boxes, planting native wildflowers and trees, and so much more. Hope you’ll join us in a Year of Restoration.

This week in climate. The numbers are finally in: 2021 was tied for the 6th hottest year ever, according to NASA and other agencies. And all of the top seven hottest years have happened in the last seven. (A European report differs slightly, saying 2021 was the fifth warmest.) But July was the hottest month ever recorded by humanity on this planet. 

And a different government study reported last week that 2021 was the deadliest weather year for the lower 48 states since 2011, with almost 700 people dying in 20 different billion-dollar weather disasters that together cost almost $150 billion. Climate change, as we are learning, is both costly and deadly.

Restoration Volunteer Workday

Help us to improve the health and biodiversity of our forest while getting to know the property, connecting with nature, and making new friends. On workdays, volunteers will remove invasive plants and help to improve our trails.


We recommend long pants, sturdy boots, and a sense of fellowship. No experience necessarywe provide gloves, tools, instruction, and snacks. Please bring your own water bottle.


Please note: our volunteer workday will be canceled in the event of severe weather.


Andorra’s Lance Butler grows mightly mussels

mike's mussel story


While Roxborough is famously home to numerous civil servants, especially cops and firemen, Andorra’s Lance Butler has among the most unusual city jobs.

He’s growing mussels. Thousands of mussels. To place back into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. And it’s surprisingly important work.

A senior scientist in Philadelphia Water’s Office of Watersheds, Lance was staring into a microscope last Thursday afternoon, measuring and assessing the health of baby mussels no larger than a grain of sand. He was sitting in a laboratory, what he calls “a living breathing laboratory,” tucked into the back of the Fairmount Water Works, Philly Water’s great museum of the city’s water history housed in the iconic building below the Art Museum. The lab doubles as the Mussel Hatchery, an exhibit in the Water Works where you can visit to learn about mussels too — and sometimes see Lance working.

The unassuming white plastic buckets that surrounded him on shelves, with a spaghetti tangle of clear plastic hoses running into and out of them, held thousands of baby mussels in various stages of their life cycles. Freshwater mussels are bivalves, two-shelled mollusks like clams and oysters, cousins of the marine versions you eat in marinara. Lance says these creatures are “bio-sentinels, the canaries in the river’s coal mine,” as they crave fresh, clean water, but have no ability to escape a pollution event — they can’t pick up and move away. If pollution strikes a river, mussels are doomed.

Consequently, over 70 percent of the world’s 700 mussel species are at risk of extinction, and freshwater mussels are among the most endangered American animals. Many were extirpated — made locally extinct — in the Delaware River basin, hence Lance’s project. But why does this matter? And why is the city spending money on this?

“Mussels have a huge impact on water quality,” Lance told me while unscrewing a jar containing baby yellow lamp mussels. As mussels anchor themselves in a river’s bottom and filter algae out of the water, “one mussel filters 10 to 20 gallons of water a day. With a million mussels in a river, that’s 20 million gallons of water. They remove nutrients, they remove solids, making the water more clear, and they remove harmful things like E. coli and other bacteria.”

Water is cleaner and safer for us because of the work of mussels.

That’s the key to why the city is investing in this. In addition to restoring to our rivers the plants and animals that belong there, Lance says, “mussels save money. If our water is cleaner going into our intake pipes, cleaning the water is easier and cheaper for the Water Department.” So spending money here saves money elsewhere.

And if you love to fish in the Schuylkill, you’ll especially love mussels. He says mussels practice “terraforming,” changing their habitat. “With mussels filtering the water, its clarity improves. Light can shine deeper into the water, so there is more submerged vegetation. And the plants hold sediment down, making better habitat for fish.” So the more mussels we have, the better the river is for fish (and fishing).

He also opened a larger lamp mussel for me, showing me a dark section inside the small soft body of what is a mother mussel. The dark spot was actually thousands of glochidia, larval mussels, hiding inside the mother. These larvae don’t have the bivalve shells and look like completely different organisms — but they are what hatches from mussel eggs. When the glochidia are ready for the next phase, some mama mussels have lures that attract the correct host fish over, and the female “spits” the glochidia at the fish, the larvae attaching themselves to the gills of the fish, “snapping like Pacman onto its gills.” And the larval mussels go for a ride.

“This is how they disperse themselves throughout a habitat,” he told me. “The fish are their Uber ride upriver.”

When ready, the glochidia transform again into small mussels and drop to the river bottom — where some species might live for as many as 100 years!

So the Mussel Hatchery also includes fish like yellow perch, the unwitting host in this extraordinary project. This week, Butler and other project scientists from the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and the Academy of Natural Sciences will be discussing what happens to the 15,000 baby mussels now stored in holding ponds at several locations in the region, all products of this process. Ultimately, they will begin releasing mussels back into the wild. And hope they take.

Lance is also senior scientist in the long-awaited restoration of the Manayunk Canal, a project which is moving ahead and “should go out to bid next year. The canal will turn into a beautiful amenity for the community.” One of the project’s goals is to get water flowing back into and out of the canal again, to reconnect it to the river from which it has been severed. And mussels will definitely be a part of the picture.

Philly Water maintains a website, “The Mighty Mussel,” to learn more about this project (, and for school teachers intrigued by this, mussels can visit your classroom as well, and your school can help bring mussels back to our rivers.

Visit the Mussel Hatchery soon, and perhaps you’ll see Roxborough’s own Lance Butler performing his critical work, bringing mighty mussels back to Philadelphia rivers.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at This blog was originally published in the Montgomery News September 5.

Restoring Cattail Pond

By Melissa Nase, Manager of Land Stewardship

Toad in Cattail PondCattail Pond sits in a serene, sunlit woodland opening at the edge of our forest, just a few quick steps outside our back door.  It is a special place, nestled into one of the few areas on the property that is free from undulating topography, naturally protected by a steep slope uphill from it and surrounding trees.  Taking all of this into consideration, it’s not surprising that there are also ruins of a barn near the pond, part of a former homestead and a reminder of the rich history of this land. Continue reading