Schuylkill Center’s Winterfest kicks off start of the season

The Schuylkill Nature Center in Roxborough breathed life back into Winterfest last night–a solstice celebration after a nearly ten-year hiatus. 

Originally, says Emily Simmons, Director of Resource Development at the center, it was geared toward adults with alcoholic drinks, stargazing, and even a yule log fire. She says that the founding executive director of the center, Richard James would entice the crowd with some stories and magic by the fire.

“With powders and pouches, he told a story and the flames would change colors–just a little bit of fireside chemistry,” she said. 

In a new twist this year, the event brought WXPN radio personalities from Kid’s Corner to the center for a meet and greet with more kid-friendly activities.

Inside the center, Dr. Lisa Chirlian of WXPN’s Science Thursdays used dry ice and salt to do experiments for her Chemistry in the Kitchen show. 

“People think chemistry is something very esoteric and only goes on in the lab, but it really goes on all over the place,” she said, “Like your kitchen.” 

But the big hit of the night was Rick Schubert of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, who brought a screech owl, red-tailed hawk, and even a vulture out for the kids to see.

Schubert says that his center rehabilitates more than 3,500 rescued animals a year so over the span of his career, he’s worked with thousands.

“Everything that’s wild in Pennsylvania we can treat, except for black bears,” he said. The education birds had all been critically injured by humans but were not in a condition to be released into the wild.

For nine-year-old Phoebe Day, of Wyndmoor, the wild birds sparked her passion. “My dream job is to be an animal rescuer, I loved the birds,” she said.

Ben Thorpe, who brought his daughter and Cecili and her friend Phoebe Day to the program says that the girls attend camp over the summer and decided to return.

“It was just fun to come back and see how it is in the winter and how the forest has changed,” he said. Thorpe, an avid bird watcher says that in Philadelphia there are countless opportunities to see birds–and not just pigeons. He says that even traditionally shy birds, like the yellow-breasted chat and indigo bunting have a hiding spot near the Schuykill center and at the Tinicum Wildlife Preserve in Southwest Philadelphia eagles and water fowl are abundant. “There are tons of species to see,” he added.

Like a calm before the Christmas storm, the event celebrated simple pleasures like stargazing, walking in the dark woods, and marshmallows in front of a fire.

Mike Weilbacher, the new executive director of the center, actually led nature walks during Winterfest nearly 30-years-ago while working at the center as an intern. 

“Most people think that there’s nothing going on in the forest during the wintertime…even in the dead of winter, the forest is alive,” he said using the example of ponds where some animals live beneath the ice instead of migrating like frogs and toads.

A small edge of the nearly 300-acre forest was decked out with candle lit walkways–the balmy winter night peaking at nearly 60-degrees dodged the rain but the cloudy sky put a damper on the star gazing enthusiasts.

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