Schuylkill Cen­ter to hold rib­bon-cut­ting for 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.

For decades, bik­ers and jog­gers have zoomed past the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s trail en­trance on the Schuylkill River Trail with­out know­ing we are there, that our trail sys­tem con­nects to the River Trail or that they can leave the River Trail to ex­plore our mas­sive for­est.

No longer.

This Thurs­day at 11 a.m., friends and fam­ily will gather to help us cut the rib­bon to in­au­gu­rate the River Trail Gate­way, our stun­ning new con­nec­tion to the River Trail. De­signed by Manayunk’s own Virid­ian Land­scape Stu­dio with sig­nage by Cloud Gehshan and fund­ing by the Wil­liam Penn Foun­da­tion, the Gate­way is an­chored by a large red name sign shout­ing the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s name, a bright red bea­con lur­ing River Trail users up­hill onto our trail sys­tem.

We’d love for you to come to the rib­bon cut­ting; even bet­ter, we’d love for you to ex­plore the River Trail and walk up through the Gate­way.

Near the name sign, large stone steps take vis­i­tors up onto our trails, for­mal steps for its early run but then more rugged stones as you get higher up. Half­way up the stairs, a cir­cle of stone cob­bles al­lows groups to gather when the Schuylkill Cen­ter holds pro­gram­ming on the trail. A large map shows vis­i­tors our trail sys­tem, and pocket trail maps will be avail­able for peo­ple to take out and use.

A short curv­ing steel wall holds back a gar­den of na­tive plants, but metal I-beams in­ex­pli­ca­bly sprout from the gar­den, a poetic al­lu­sion to the River Trail’s in­dus­trial his­tory, as the famed Penn­syl­va­nia Rail­road once steamed along this trail; a rock quarry ham­mered away a few hun­dred yards down the Gate­way on the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s own prop­erty. Back in the 19th cen­tury, this was no quiet, idyl­lic spot.

But the big­gest change is in the veg­e­ta­tion there. Un­til this sum­mer, a witch’s brew of invasive non­na­tive weeds, in­clud­ing at least one mas­sive invasive tree, dom­i­nated the site. No more. The in­va­sives have mostly been re­moved, and we’ve re­planted with na­tive wild­flow­ers, shrubs and trees, which our staff will be sup­ple­ment­ing as we move ahead.

In ad­di­tion, Smith Run, a small stream that arises in Up­per Roxbor­ough un­der­neath the ball­fields, flows through the cen­ter’s for­est and then un­der­neath the River Trail through a metal cul­vert. 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; in fact, many small streams once flowed through Roxbor­ough down the ravines and into the Schuylkill. Only a hand­ful are left, like this one.

When the River Trail was cre­ated back per­haps in the ‘70s, a chain link fence was in­stalled, pro­tect­ing trail users from fall­ing off the edge of the trail into the ravine where the stream flows. But the fence then grew its own dense wall of invasive vines, a who’s who of the most of­fen­sive plants tak­ing over Penn­syl­va­nia habi­tats. That dense green wall pre­cluded trail users from see­ing any­thing be­yond it — in­clud­ing the stream be­low.

So we’ve pulled down that green wall, al­low­ing River Trail users a new view into a rare sight in Philadel­phia — an unim­peded stream — and we’re telling the story of those streams in a new in­ter­pre­tive sign.

Since there are so many bik­ers on the River Trail, we’ve also in­stalled a bike rack funded by REI (thank you!), which al­lows ad­ven­tur­ous trekkers to lock their bikes and walk up into our trails.

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 23-mile 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.

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 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.

So come to the River Trail Gate­way rib­bon-cut­ting this Thurs­day, Sept. 27, at 11 a.m. We’re meet­ing on the River Trail; drive down Shaw­mont Av­enue and park at the bot­tom of Shaw­mont or along Nixon Street and walk down the River Trail. The Schuylkill Cen­ter’s stretch of the River Trail is only a few hun­dred yards west of where River Road and Nixon Street di­verge.

Hope to see you there.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO — SCHUYLKILL CEN­TER

The Schuylkill Cen­ter will hold a rib­bon-cut­ting for the new River Trail Gate­way this Thurs­day, Sept. 27, at 11 a.m.

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