ROXBOROUGH >> More than 300 acres of forests, fields, ponds and streams make the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education a unique fixture in a big city.
Located in Upper Roxborough, the Schuylkill Center was founded in 1965, and it is the first organization of its kind in Philadelphia and one of the first urban environmental education centers in the U.S.
“We’ve been trying to keep that pioneer spirit alive,” said Mike Weilbacher, executive director of the Schuylkill Center.
The mission of the Schuylkill Center is to help both children and adults foster connections with nature. This is accomplished through its three core programs: environmental education, environmental art and land stewardship.
The Schuylkill Center is perhaps best known for its educational programming. In the spring, the center has visits from different school groups nearly every day.
The Schuylkill also offers a nature preschool, as well as a summer camp, day-off camps and an after-school care program known as the Monkey Tail Gang. There will also be a kindergarten class added for the upcoming school year.
These childcare programs are intentionally focused on providing children with more time for unstructured, outdoor play that they might not otherwise get. Students of the nature preschool spend time outdoors all year long, regardless of the weather. The teachers believe that there is “no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” said Weilbacher.
The Schuylkill Center also offers various programs for adults, such as the University of Nature program, which includes a full day of workshops for anyone who wants to learn more about the environment and connect with nature.
The environmental art program at the Schuylkill Center offers another way to educate and inspire curiosity about the natural surroundings. The program hosts three to four art shows per year, each responding to environmental topics. The shows features all professional artists and includes both indoor and outdoor art installations.
“The environmental art program is one of the things that makes us unique,” said Weilbacher.
The program started in 2000 and over time has grown both in its scale and in the caliber of artists that are involved.
For a new show this summer, called Wet Lab, the center’s gallery will transform into a dynamic studio space where visitors can explore the topic of water. Some of the work on display will be in progress, allowing visitors to witness the installations evolve over the course of the show.
Through its land stewardship program, the center focuses on preserving the land’s biodiversity. On the third Saturday of every month, participants gather to plant trees and shrubs and pull out invasive plants. Currently, the Schuylkill Center has a grant that allows for the planting of 600 trees and shrubs.
Nature PHL is a new collaborative program that brings together the Schuylkill Center, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the U.S. Forest Service with the purpose of offering outdoor activity prescriptions to local families.
According to Weilbacher, research shows that being outdoors has positive health benefits and that more time spent in green spaces yields greater health.
Through Nature PHL, the groups will work to connect families with nature through education, incentives and resources.
Another new development is the construction of a new trail that will connect the property to the Schuylkill River Trail, which Weilbacher says will help increase the center’s visibility.
“So many people come here and are so surprised that we’re still in the City of Philadelphia,” said Weilbacher.
The Schuylkill Center offers a “living lab” to inspire people to connect with nature, Weilbacher said. Not only that, but the extensive green space helps to cool the air and make it cleaner.
“We’re here for everybody ... in the city and beyond,” Weilbacher said.
Schuylkill Center For Environmental Education
8480 Hagy’s Mill Road, Roxborough
Visitor Center Hours: Monday to Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.