Schuylkill Center preserves treasured open space

One of Northwest Philadelphia’s most beloved swaths of green space now has some assurance that it will stay that way.

This week, officials from the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education signed a conservation easement with the Natural Lands Trust that will permanently protect 325 acres of its core property.  The easement puts the land off-limits to development.

The land includes woods, fields and streams in Upper Roxborough bounded by Spring Lane, Hagy’s Mill Road, Port Royal Avenue and the Schuylkill Bike Trail.

“It’s sort of a dream come true,” said Interim Executive Director Karen Forbes. The agreement wraps up more than four years of legal discussions and scientific evaluations of the land, which is also home to a wildlife rehabilitation clinic, an education center and Green Woods Charter School.

“There can be no more debate or discussion about leasing or selling lands,” Board President Binney Meigs said. “It’s a done deal.”

As the son of one of the center’s founders and someone who grew up on the property, Meigs said he’s grateful to know the largest privately owned open space area within Philadelphia will be protected indefinitely.

“There’s absolutely nothing to compare with living in a city that has, inside, this really large, quiet place where virtually nobody intrudes,” Meigs said in a phone conversation as he recalled walking and riding horses through the open woodlands as a child.

Meigs credits Anne Bower, vice president of the Schuylkill Center, with working hard to make the case to protect the land.  Bower and her team spent countless hours assessing the inventory of plants and animal species on the property in addition to measuring water quality of the streams.

“It’s been a daily labor of love; it’s my second child,” said Bower who was the lead scientist on the preservation project. She says her work has paid off, now that the dream of perserving a large tract of natural habitat has become a reality.

“For the Roxborough community, for our children’s children’s children, they will always be able to experience what I experience as a scientist now,” said Bower.

Meigs refers to the easement as a “community enhancement gesture” which will raise the community in its stature as a result.

It’s a gesture neighbors in Northwest Philadelphia say they really appreciate. 

“It’s a burden we don’t have to worry about anymore,” said Bob Turino, president of the Upper Roxborough Civic Association.  “Up here, it’s always about when and where the developer is going to try next.”

The agreement with the Natural Lands Trust, a non-profit land conservation organization, is broken down into three different forms of protection: highest, medium and minimal.

The bulk of the center’s acreage, 259.2 acres, is placed in the highest protection category, including the two last remaining first order streams in Philadelphia which run through the property.

Sean Duffy, director of land and facility management at The Schuylkill Center, said the easement will also protect the 13 endangered bird species, coyotes, hawks and vultures that live on the property.

By agreeing to preserve the land and never cash in on its worth as development land, the Center also secured $750,000 in state grants from the Keystone Fund. The money was set aside for the Schuylkill Center in 2006, pending approval of the easement.

“We kind of see this as a legacy for all of us here,” said Duffy, who hopes this easement helps the Schuylkill Center further its mission in education.

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