Monday, November 10, 2014

Class Field Trip

High School Park Restoration Manager Kevin (bearded, far left) with students
On Friday, November 7, I accompanied my Ecological Restoration students from the University of Pennsylvania on a field trip to High School Park in one of Philadelphia's "inner ring" suburbs.  I've written about High School Park in several earlier posts.  The park is the site of the municipality's original high school, which was abandoned when a new school was built in another location, fell into decrepitude, and was finally razed.  Since then, the 11-acre park has been adopted by a "Friends" group, which has been working to restore the riparian woodlands, up-slope forests, and hilltop plateau with native plants.
Stairs leading from former athletic fields to the hilltop location of the old school
Our guide for the trip was the Friends' Restoration Manager, Kevin.  Although the site is small, it is overrun with invasive plants.  Because the park is public property, Kevin is not authorized to use herbicides.  In addition, he has no help other than volunteers that he can cajole into working.  In my opinion (and experience), he's fighting a losing battle, but he is supremely dedicated to the work and to the Friends.
Along a mid-slope forest trail
Because the park is located in an "inner ring" suburb, its infrastructure is old.  The sewer line following the creek that runs along the north edge of the park is leaking, and the municipality must replace it.  Next spring, the municipality's contractor is going to excavate a massive trench alongside the creek and through a major portion of the park to install a new 5-foot concrete sewer pipe.  Any work that Kevin has accomplished to date there will be destroyed.  I'd find such a setback really disheartening, but Kevin sees the silver lining in these storm clouds because the construction will require streambank restoration and he thinks the park could actually end up better than it is now.

I'll withhold judgement until I get a chance to see the work.


packrat said...

Being something of a cynic myself I'm grateful for people like Kevin, and I marvel at their upbeat outlook. I'm certain that much of what's accomplished in this world is because of Kevin and his kind.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

I too often wonder at the dedication of conservation workers, particularly those who work in urban environments where they are under constant attack from all sides and who have to accommodate the needs of both nature and those who use the area - not only those who wander in peaceful contemplation but also those who drop litter, light fires and go there only to take illegal drugs. However, particularly in a small and crowded island like Britain it is that balance between man and nature which must somehow be resolved.

robin andrea said...

It will be interesting to see how it all works out.

Mark P said...

Natural or at least semi-natural areas close to a major city can be such a great thing, if only they are properly preserved. Our own town of Rome has been trying to turn a recreational and semi-natural riverside area right next to downtown into some kind of commercial development for a long time now. Rome is not a big city, but once that kind of area ner the city is gone, it's gone forever. There doesn't seem to be a real commitment to preservation in some circles.

Scott said...

Packrat: Honestly (though I know Kevin because he works for me at my preserve as a contractor), I was surprised at how upbeat and positive he was. It took me aback. I think I'd get beaten down pretty quickly.

Scott said...

John: As my students and I toured the park, nearly every member of the public we saw enjoying the land was accompanied by a dog (which is permitted in the park). While all of the dogs we saw were on a leash, Kevin explained that often, dogs are not leashed and dig up his restoration work. I'd be apoplectic. I don't think I could work in an environment like that for long.

I've passed along to Kevin several local private land management positions of which I have become aware, but he remains dedicated to High School Park. Good for the park!

Scott said...

Mark: Except for the wooded (and heavily invaded) hillside between the location of the school and the creek floodplain, this land was completely urbanized. The Friends are bringing it back, which makes it all the more precious--even if it is a "pocket park" in an otherwise completely developed neighborhood. When remaining natural areas are cleared, it's all the more distressing, as you note.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: I'll keep you posted occasionally for the 3+ years that I intend to remain in my job. I'm sure that I'll be taking students there regularly because the park is a good example of the challenges faced by urban restorationists, and it's close-by and accessible.