Spring in the Pennypack Trust

Matt Schickling, the Wire

Spring officially began on March 20, which is hard to believe considering how large February’s freeze looms in recent memory.

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But a walk through the trails of Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust in Huntingdon Valley confirms that, indeed, warmer weather is on the horizon.

Ice gives way to flowing water, green sprouts emerge from long-dormant trees and unseen animals shuffle through thickets along the Pennypack Creek.

The scenes are peaceful and pleasant and have been for a long time, but that wasn’t always the case.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the land was unprotected, and development and suburbanization of the surrounding areas threatened to intrude on the once-undisturbed area.

“The water quality in the creek was terrible,” said David Robertson, executive director of the Trust. “The creek was full of soap suds. The streambanks were trashed by people dumping tires. There were entire cars driven into secluded areas and just left there.”

At that time, there was a growing concern in the Huntingdon Valley area about the water quality in the creek, but little done to make it better.

“That was really the impetus behind it,” Robertson said.

A group of 11 people formed the Pennypack Watershed Association in 1970. Their initial ambitions were simple: to improve water quality in the creek and monitor development in the watershed. They were also interested in developing a natural preserve area in the watershed.

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A plan adopted by the Watershed in 1975 outlined 855 acres of natural land deemed worthy of protection. The group would attempt to acquire this land through donations, purchases and other means.

Originally, the preserve contained only the 26 acres surrounding what is now the main office at the Trust.

At the same time, facility improvements by the Upper Moreland-Hatboro Joint Sewer Authority, a wastewater treatment plant three miles north of the Trust, were in turn improving water quality in the creek.

The plant contributes about half of the creek’s water flow by taking wastewater, purifying it and discharging it into the creek.

“If that plant wasn’t doing a good job of treating wastewater, then the creekwater wasn’t in good condition,” Robertson said.

The cleaner water allowed the organization to redirect its efforts toward land acquisition. By 1993, the 26-acre preserve increased to 480 protected acres and was renamed the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust.

Today, the Trust holds 812 acres of protected land through Abington, Upper Moreland, Lower Moreland and Bryn Athyn. In 2003, after a revision of the 1975 plan, the Trust identified over 200 more acres for protection, aiming to conserve them when they become available.

Within the Trust are 11 miles of trails, visited annually by about 20,000 people. The trails will be able to be accessed via the Pennypack Trail extension when the project is completed.

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The Trust also hosts a wide range of animal life. According to Robertson, since its existence, there have been 250 different species of birds recorded in the Trust. Other woodland creatures like deer, turkey, foxes, raccoons, opossums and skunks are regularly seen, and native fish occupy the waters of the creek.

Robertson also mentioned that, while rare, there have been coyote sightings.

The Trust serves sometimes as an outdoor classroom, whether it be the nighttime firefly walk, stream walks, crayfish catch or various other activities held throughout the year. A partnership between the Trust and Bryn Athyn College exists to monitor and study the deer population, including the makeup of the herds and movement patterns.

Mostly, though, it is used for passive recreation. Walkers, hikers, birders, runners, joggers, photographers and others roam the land, enjoying its natural, expansive offerings.