Top Ten Accomplishments for 2011
Goal 1: Creating Trails and Connecting Visitors to the Outdoors
- The All Trails Goal Group met three times in 2011 with region wide participation by all trail leads and municipalities advancing segments of the Schuylkill River Trail, and regional trails to destinations and gateways. These meetings were enriched by several presentations on major updates presented by counties and partners advancing trail sections to keep abreast of the priority trail implementation and status for the region to create an interconnected trail network of opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
- The The Big Woods Trail construction application was submitted to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the entity managing the William Penn Foundation Trail Program. It was also selected for an award of $500K for Phase 1 construction activities within French Creek State Park. This section is a 2.0 mile trail section from the Thun Trail section of the Schuylkill River Trail through Yelenoc/Sheeder properties now part of French Creek State Park having been acquired in 2010, thus allowing this trail connection.
- The Schuylkill River Trail from Spring City to Parkersford was completed and celebrated by regional partners with an event held on October 25 in Spring City organized by Chester County with PA DCNR’s John Giordano speaking along with other elected officials and the Schuylkill Highlands recognized with a trail ride on the new section held immediately after the event.
Goal 2: Encouraging Sustainable Development
- The SH Compatible Economic Development Plan was completed for the Middle Schuylkill (Hopewell Big Woods and Reading to Valley Forge corridor). This plan provides guidance to move collaborative project actions forward in the geography of the Middle Schuylkill section of the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area inclusive of the Hopewell Big Woods. A SH Compatible Economic Development Plan Open House was held at Morlatton Village and over 70 regional leaders attended to participate in the event. It was a hugely successful event.
- A Schuylkill Highlands workshop entitled, “Creating Community Character” was planned and held on May 5th at Franklin Commons and attended by well over 110 attendees representing a diverse mix of community leaders, consultants, non -profits and state agency representatives. Speakers Ed McMahon and Randall Arendt both captured the audience with their presentations followed by two local initiatives presented by Kurt Zwikl of the SRHA and Carter Van Dyke. A re-design exercise was facilitated with assistance from regional planners from DVRPC, Montgomery County, Phoenixville Planner Ray Ott, and Andy Hamilton. This workshop was enjoyed by all and was another very successful regional SH event and valued by all attending. Carolyn Wallis and Carol De Wolf hosted and announced speakers and moved the day’s activities along.
- A Sustainability Tour was held throughout the Schuylkill Highlands landscape including visits to learn about the following: Native plant gardens, sustainable farming practices, goats and cheese making, silt restoration projects along the river, St. Peter’s Village, Birdsboro Waters and forestry practices, BMP’s to separate manure from streams, dairy cattle operations and several other landscape learning opportunities. Accolades are still being received from those attending.
Goal 3: Conserving, Protecting, and Stewarding Lands, Watersheds, and Habitats
- The Schuylkill Highlands Natural Resource Greenway Study will soon be completed and this was advanced gaining partnership support through several very well attended Schuylkill Highlands greenway focused meetings throughout the year to gather feedback. This included:
- Two landscape-wide meetings of municipal leaders to present the greenway concept and gather feedback on the natural resources of value in the Hopewell Big Woods, Oley Hills, Oley Valley and the Green Lane to Unami Hills area.
- A Greenway strategies meeting was held at Crow’s Nest Preserve in which large numbers of partners working throughout the greenway attended. A break-out session to gather further feedback resulted in the development of strategies for implementation in the resource areas of the greenway.
- A Greenway meeting for the Berks, Chester and Montgomery County Planning Commission Executive Director’s and their Assistant Directors, and stakeholders including Berks County Conservancy, Pa Audubon, Natural Lands Trust, French and Pickering Creek Conservation Trust, Philadelphia Water Department and SRHA to gain feedback and support for the Greenway from each county. A presentation and was made by Peter Williamson, and facilitation and discussion was held by Kim Murphy (Berks Conservancy) Carolyn Wallis (DCNR) and Carol De Wolf to capture suggested goals for the greenway and discuss an approach for outreach and a communications messaging toolkit for the greenway.
- Among the land protection efforts completed to highlight include the following top two:
- Land and Water Conservation federally funded land protection projects in Pennsylvania supported the preservation of 582 acres in Oley Hills bringing the protected acreage in the Oley Hills to 2, 800 acres.
- Natural Lands Trust closed on the Patterson property acquisition in April adding 20 more acres to French Creek State Park.
Goal 4: Promoting the Schuylkill Highlands CLI
- Program communications were advanced this year in the following ways:
- Further use of the website was invaluable as a communications tool for partners especially handling the conference, meetings, mini grant program, and our calendar and project drafts for partners to review.
- The grant project awards were placed onto a web friendly google map and inserted on the grants page of the schuylkillhighlands.org website. Awarded projects now have a project description, photo and pin to locate the project site.
- The website was updated with potential grant opportunities for partners.
- Two Steering Committee meetings were held with two varied formats which were very successful with enlightening presentations by some interesting project work being undertaken by DCNR funding.
- Several speaking events and presentations were also made including:
- Carol De Wolf spoke at a large gathering at George Wausnak’s Memorial Carousel at the Pottstown Exhibition Center for an audience of business investors, business owners, Main Street and Borough Managers and Mayors of the Pottstown region and Boyertown, County Commissioner reps, Farmers Market representatives, and many other interested parties came to discuss the potential for a new tourist railroad being advanced and the marketing potential in both places.
- Carol De Wolf, Cindy Dunn, Carter Van Dyke, and Susan Huffman presented at the American Planning Association Pennsylvania Chapter annual conference in Scranton on the Schuylkill Highlands Compatible Economic Development Planning process, findings, recommendations, and early actions to an audience of 65 appreciative attendees (highest attendance at any session) followed by an engaging question and answer period.
- Carol De Wolf, Kurt Zwikl and Carter van Dyke presented at two Schuylkill Congress sessions. The first was on the Schuylkill Highlands Greenway efforts and the second on the SH Compatible Economic Development Plan.
Goal 5: Administer Mini-Grant Program
- The Schuylkill Highlands Mini-Grant Program was funded by both PA DCNR and the William Penn Foundation, and administered jointly by both Natural Lands Trust and Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area. Rounds 3 and 4 projects were awarded in 2011. Four Fact Sheets were created of past awarded projects for Grant Rounds 1, 2, 3, and 4. A financial tracking spreadsheet was created to track funding, leveraged dollars, and grant progress. DCNR and WPF dollars were leveraged seven fold and we now have over $1 M projects being completed at this time, all serving to catapult the regions livability and quality of life. See Fact Sheets for project photos and information.