Roxborough Graphic

Part 2 of a two-part column

“Go to Google Earth,” wrote Steve Kaufman, a Whitemarsh resident who has long worked on open space preservation in Roxborough’s next-door neighbor township. “Pan in on Upper Roxborough,” he continued, “and adjacent Montgomery County, and click on the satellite view. You will find a broad sweep of generally wooded open space that starts with the Shawmont Valley, runs northwestward through the Schuylkill Center and the Reservoir, and on past Manatawna Farm and the county line into the steep-sided, heavily wooded Manor Creek valley.”

So I did – and reproduced it here. And it shows exactly how green Upper Roxborough is – and how green lower Roxborough is not. And people up at this end of the community are hoping to stave off the density of the lower portion. Developers, meanwhile, have at last discovered some of the city's last green spaces and available land.

And in the middle of this sweep, tucked between where it says Shawmont Valley and where it labels the city’s Manatawna Farms – right under the R in Roxborough – is the Schuylkill Center, the 340-acre anchor of our community’s open space.

That‘s where we will gather this Thursday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m., for “Roxborough Green: Preserving Open Space,” a town meeting featuring a panel of really sharp guests: James Harry Calamia, executive director of the Roxborough Development Corporation; Celeste Hardester, president of the Central Roxborough Civic Association; Kay Sykora, a board member of the Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy; and Matt Wysong, a planner with the City of Philadelphia.

As a group, they will share their thoughts on preservation, but also talk with you in an open-ended format that allows lots of conversation. The evening is free.

Last week, we shared what the panelists and other leaders in this effort think about open space. This week, I wanted to focus on two things, the importance of trees in the open space conversation, and actions we might be able to take to protect open space.

“From my perspective,” Celeste Hardester, one of the panelists, wrote to me last week, “the kind of open space that matters most critically is land that contains trees. For innumerable environmental reasons that many are familiar with, trees matter, and today they arguably matter to the long-term wellbeing of all life more than any other kind of open space.

“But over the past several years,” she continued, “more and more people are planting more and more trees, and this is great. However, so much of what is being planted are street trees. Typically, today’s street tree species will not grow to be large or tall. They are often decorative species that, while delightful to look at, do not provide the essential role that large trees play in the environment. So I believe finding places to plant trees that will grow big and then caring for them is the most important action to take.”

Celeste, the president of the Central Roxborough Civic Association, noted that “people in the 1800s had a cultural value for trees. As many of the trees they planted took a hundred or more years to mature, we are the beneficiaries of their passion. You can’t look at these large trees on historic properties without saying a quiet thank you to the person who planted them. So preserving historic properties with trees is important just for that reason, if not many others.

My hope,” she concluded, “is that people will have an enhanced awareness of the importance of large canopy trees, to help keep them going until they are truly at their life’s end, and to find places to plant more. People are often unaware that the tall trees they see are not being replaced, that we have a case of a geriatric generation that has few young trees coming up behind them. Our landscape could be vastly different in 100 years, not just due to climate change but due to simply overlooking the need to plant for the future. I think the city makes a good attempt at encouraging tree-planting and requiring trees by code, but I would like to see a Victory Garden mentality brought to the issue.”

Regarding actions, the Roxborough Development Corp.’s James Harry Calamia thinks, “before we can better link and preserve our spaces and consider goals around them, we have to take stock in what we have. It would be great to see a comprehensive inventory of protected and unprotected land, park facilities, vulnerable resources and trees to exhibit the magnitude of our current assets.” Agreed.

Kay Sykjora, longtime Roxborough activist and a board member of the Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy, thinks we need to “work thoughtfully to preserve what open space we can. That includes recognizing there will be development” – ah, she’s a pragmatist as well –  “but think about tools to balance development with open space preservation; note that the civics are currently doing this work. But for the open space to fully work for the community it has to work to develop resources and tools for engagement, education and look at how to maintain the open space that we have.”

Which is one thing her conservancy is working hard on, maintaining these open spaces in volunteer efforts you can join – she’ll talk about this more as well.

So on Thursday evening, a large group of your friends and neighbors will come to the Schuylkill Center to discuss this critical community issue, the preservation of our remaining green spaces.

We’ll give the last word back to Steve Kaufman, who kicked us off. Pointing again to the map of open spaces straddling Roxborough and Whitemarsh, he wrote that “we need to unite in the defense of our common open space, whether the threat is in Roxborough or Montgomery County. We need to view this biosphere, unique in the Philadelphia area, as a whole.”

Join us on Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. for a great discussion.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org

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