Up­grades un­der­way as Schuylkill Cen­ter cre­ates new River Trail Gate­way.

The Review - - FRONT PAGE - Mike Weil­bacher Colum­nist Mike Weil­bacher di­rects the Schuylkill Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion in Up­per Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike and can be reached at mike@ schuylkill­cen­ter.org.

The Schuylkill Cen­ter’s 340-acre rec­tan­gle of pro­tected open space sits atop the amaz­ing Schuylkill River Trail, which con­nects Val­ley Forge on one end to Cen­ter City on the other while skirt­ing our south­ern flank. Thou­sands of bik­ers and jog­gers pass along our border, hun­dreds daily dur­ing the cy­cling sea­son, but most have no idea that the Schuylkill Cen­ter is right there along­side the trail. The old sign mark­ing our pres­ence was marred by van­dals long ago and was vir­tu­ally un­read­able by bik­ers any­way — our name was just too small. The 8-foot chain link safety fence pro­tect­ing peo­ple from fall­ing over a berm be­came a mas­sive tan­gle of in­va­sive vines block­ing a stun­ning view of the stream be­low.

As you read this, ev­ery­thing there is chang­ing.

With fund­ing from the Wil­liam Penn Foun­da­tion, we’re cre­at­ing the River Trail Gate­way, a sec­ond en­trance to the Schuylkill Cen­ter, this one where our four-mile trail sys­tem meets the pop­u­lar River Trail. Stone ma­sons are right now in­stalling stun­ning steps that will take you up from the River Trail to our trail sys­tem, and a cir­cle of rocks will soon al­low small groups to gather for pro­grams we can now of­fer down on the River Trail.

Old sec­tions of rail­road track will also soon be in­stalled, some along the ground as edg­ing, oth­ers point­ing up­wards, an artis­tic al­lu­sion to the site’s in­dus­trial his­tory and the train tracks that once took the old Read­ing Rail­road down that same path; its aban­don­ment decades ago led to the cre­ation of the River Trail.

That vine-en­crusted chain link fence is al­ready down — al­ready, the view into the glen is im­pres­sive.

We’ll soon be adding a new Schuylkill Cen­ter name sign, one with let­ters large enough to be read by bik­ers zoom­ing down, and a large trail map will tell you where ev­ery­thing is on our prop­erty — with pa­per maps avail­able to take up on a walk. A bike rack funded by REI (thank you!) will al­low ad­ven­tur­ous trekkers to lock their bikes and walk into our trails.

The big­gest change is in the veg­e­ta­tional there. Un­til last month a witch’s brew of in­va­sive non­na­tive weeds, in­clud­ing mas­sive trees, the in­va­sives have been re­moved, but that means very lit­tle plants ex­ist along the trail at the mo­ment. We’ll soon be re­plant­ing with na­tive wild­flow­ers, shrubs and trees, and our staff will be tasked with main­tain­ing the new grow­ing mix of plants.

Smith Run flows un­der­neath the River Trail, a small stream that arises on the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s prop­erty and flows di­rectly into the Schuylkill. It’s one of only a hand­ful of streams still flow­ing unim­peded through Philadel­phia — most of the city’s streams were cov­ered over or dammed long ago — and we’ll be telling the story of those streams in a new in­ter­pre­tive sign.

The Wil­liam Penn Foun­da­tion funds a large num­ber of crit­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­grams, in­clud­ing the Cir­cuit Trails, a 750mile trail net­work spi­der web­bing through­out the re­gion; trails here in Philadel­phia can get you to the Po­conos, the Le­high Val­ley and Delaware. The 23mile Schuylkill River Trail, in some ways the back­bone of the Cir­cuit, con­nects Schuylkill Banks in Cen­ter City to the tow­path in Manayunk to Val­ley Forge. It’s also still grow­ing, as the new Bar­tram’s Mile con­nects Bar­tram’s Gar­den to the River Trail at the bot­tom of Philadel­phia. Imag­ine that: a walk­ing/bik­ing trail from Bar­tram’s Gar­den to the Schuylkill Cen­ter and be­yond.

There is a pinch pont, a gap in the trail, where Wissahickon Creek flows into the Schuylkill at the Ca­noe Club. But the city has big plans for the Wissahickon Tran­sit Cen­ter next door, and soon a walk­ing bridge will bring peo­ple across the Wissahickon right there. The River Trail is slowly unlocking and be­ing com­pleted.

The Wil­liam Penn Foun­da­tion also funds the Al­liance of Wa­ter­shed Ed­u­ca­tion, an as­so­ci­a­tion of 23 na­ture cen­ters with a pres­ence along the Cir­cuit. As a mem­ber, the Schuylkill Cen­ter is com­mit­ted to work­ing with the foun­da­tion to ed­u­cate recre­ation­ists us­ing the trail to teach about the en­vi­ron­ment, par­tic­u­larly the river the trail fol­lows. Hence our pro­gram­ming nexus at the Gate­way, a place for us to gather and do in­ter­pre­tive walks along the River Trail.

De­signed by the Manayunk-based Virid­ian Land­scape Stu­dio, this project is a key piece of the cen­ter’s un­fold­ing mas­ter plan, which in­cludes a new trail along Hagy’s Mill Road ,which will en­hance the con­nec­tion be­tween the cen­ter and nearby Roxborough neigh­bor­hoods. Both the frontage trail and our stretch of the River Trail will one day be lined with a “Rib­bon of Red,” na­tive plant­ings that turn var­i­ous shades of red dur­ing dif­fer­ent times of the year. Along the River Trail, red grasses will grow along the ground, sumac leaves will turn crim­son in the fall, red flow­er­ing bee balm will at­tract but­ter­flies and hum­ming­birds. Red will be­come a fea­tured part of our sig­na­ture plant­ings along the en­tire perime­ter, in­clud­ing our en­trance drive­way off Hagy’s Mill

We will be con­duct­ing a rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony for this project in the fall and cor­dially in­vite you to par­tic­i­pate — and to knock on the door of this sec­ond en­trance. See the fall cal­en­dar on our web­site for more in­for­ma­tion; love to have you help us cut the rib­bon on this great project in Septem­ber.


A stone ma­son from the Paul W. Stein­beiser Co. lays Bel­gian block on the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s new River Trail Gate­way project.

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