By Amy Krauss

Director of Communications, Schuylkill Center

If you’re out on the Schuylkill Center’s trails early on a weekday morning, which you really should do, most likely you’ll happen upon an energetic trio enjoying the sights and sounds of the 340-acre forest. Dr. Evamarie Malsch, Dr. Louise Lisi and Gail Harp, residents of Cathedral Village, the Andorra continuing care retirement community off Ridge Avenue, are frequent hikers, coming to know the trails intimately. “We’re really lucky to have the Schuylkill Center so closeby,” Evamarie comments, “and we’ve been going there at least twice a week to hike since the start of the pandemic.”

Evamarie took up hiking soon after she retired to Cathedral Village, and was fortunate to meet Gail and Louise, avid hikers who also reside there. Together they are affectionately referred to as the Three Musketeers in their community. When COVID-19 hit in March, they were required to socially distance, remain at home and only go out to exercise. To ensure the safety of their residents, Cathedral Village management asked that they curtail driving off campus and minimize interactions with the public. For that reason, the threesome chose to focus their hikes to locations that were within walking distance from their home.

Evamarie is delighted to explore the far reaches of the Schuylkill Center because every time she goes out, she finds something new in bloom. “We have been having such fun learning about animals and ephemerals [perennial plants that emerge quickly in the spring then die back]. I took lots of photos. I even discovered a new app on my phone called Seek that helps me identify them.” The Seek app has been dubbed a Pokémon Go or Shazam for nature lovers and encourages user-friendly citizen science.

One creature that recently caught their attention was a red eft, a stage in the left cycle of the Eastern newt. The hikers disagreed about whether the bright red coloring was poisonous, but they eventually confirmed that, indeed, this was the most toxic stage of the animal and a clear warning to predators.

Louise doesn’t mind that they’re not driving to new places to hike. “Because the Schuylkill Center landscape changes so rapidly, our hikes never feel the same even if we take the same route.” When asked if she has a favorite spot, she quickly responds, “my absolute favorite is Smith Run. I feel like I’m in some far away country when I’m listening to the stream while enjoying the trees and foliage.” She says, “I don’t know what I would’ve done during the pandemic without being able to be outside with my friends.” Now that restrictions have somewhat eased, she has extended her love of the Schuylkill Center to her daughter and grandchildren and even made up a scavenger hunt for their introductory trip. Evamarie agrees, “it’s a magical place to go with your family or your friends-- there’s something for everyone.”

Gail claims that she is the least knowledgeable of the three when it comes to plant identification, but has the best teachers in her hiking buddies. “I’ve taken lots of pictures and started a notebook to identify the names of plants unfamiliar to me,” she recalls. “I’ve learned so much over the past three months about ephemerals.” Gail says one of her favorite areas is where the pear trees bloom. “You see these beautiful flowering trees and yet they’re only in bloom for a short time. Each outing feels a little bit different as the landscape constantly changes.”

Evamarie has been a loyal member of the Schuylkill Center for five years and shares why she supports it. “I get so much pleasure from going there so I choose to give to a place that aligns with my values of educating people about nature.” She also appreciates the fact even though it’s “in the city limits, it feels like I’m in the wild. In my native Germany, all the open land is managed and very controlled. Here, everything is natural which is calming and peaceful.” Louise echoes her wonderment saying, “even if we go on the same trail, it always feels different. Watching the changes over the past few months has given me a deeper connection to nature. It’s also eased some of my anxiety associated with the pandemic.” Gail sums up her experience by reflecting that “being at the Schuylkill Center makes me feel like I could be a million miles away. I marvel at everything I see.”

We invite you to explore the Schuylkill Center’s trails this summer. We’re open dawn to dusk every day and studies show that being in nature helps relieve anxiety and stress. Who knows? Perhaps you may run into our Cathedral Village friends. Ask them a question, they may very well know the answer given their time spent at the Schuylkill Center.

Amy Krauss is the Director of Communications for the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, and can be reached at akrauss@schuykillcenter.org. She is filling in this week for regular columnist Mike Weilbacher, who is on vacation this week.

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