Roxborough: Schuylkill Center Brings Nature Education Into Your Living Room

At The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, one of the main outdoor recreation spaces in Northwest Philadelphia, many of the center’s regular, popular programs were moved online to comply with the CDC and city guidelines put in place at the start of the pandemic. 

In the first year of the pandemic, the center’s trails still remained open — visitors were cautioned to stay 6 feet or “one turkeys vulture’s wingspan” apart — but much of the education work the center is known for was canceled or held over Zoom.  

“Nature means a lot of things to the Philadelphia community,” said Tessie Devlin, communication coordinator at the Schuylkill Center. “It is a way for people to explore, learn, grow, and play. It is especially important for people to have access to the greenery in a city.”

Now, Schuylkill Center staff are taking many of the lessons they’ve learned about virtual events and finding new ways to share their joy for nature with Philadelphia residents. 

Founded in 1965, the Schuylkill Center uses its hundreds of acres to inspire meaningful connections between people and nature through public programming and environmental exhibitions. Annual programs aim to educate children, families, students, and older adults through a variety of nature walks, art exhibitions, and even group play. 

The center had a built-in audience, and quickly sought creative ways to keep them engaged in the staff’s work when activities went online.

“We have re-envisioned programming during the pandemic to include things like our free, online presentations, Thursday Night L!VE,” Devlin said. “Another example is that we moved our Native Plant Sale to be completely online and more accessible.

Sam Bucciarelli talking about a variety of different mushrooms. (Matthew Aquino/PN)

Thursday Night L!VE is a six-part event hosted on YouTube. The first installment of this year’s series, “A Celebration of Spring,” premiered on March 24, with presentations continuing every Thursday until April 28, with the “Restoration Roundtable: A Town Meeting.”

“A Celebration of Spring” was moderated by Mike Weilbacher. He explained the equinox and then introduced the Schuylkill Center’s naturalists Steve Goin, Leigh Ashbrook, Eduardo Duenas, and Sam Bucciarelli to talk about trees, wildflowers, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and mushrooms.

Weilbacher believes individuals should visit the center because since the beginning of spring something new is always happening in the forest.

“New flowers in bloom, new trees in bloom, new birds to see, so come for a visit,” Weilbacher said. “It’s a great place to essentially be calm, to be healed.”

Leigh Ashbrook discussing different birds an individual may see during Spring. (Matthew Aquino/PN)

Steve Kauffman has been a board member for the Schuylkill Center for about 12 years and attended the celebration of spring. Kauffman believes that it is extremely important for younger people to get involved.

“It is just important for people in the city to have access to nature in a fairly wild state,” Kauffman said. 

Other events offered online because of the pandemic include Ask a Naturalist, where individuals will get the opportunity to learn from an environmental educator. The event is recorded on FB Live every Monday at 5 p.m. 

There are also Schuylkill Saturdays, which are educational videos recorded live each Saturday at 10:30 with one of the Schuylkill center’s environmental educators. Attendees learn several nature facts, and then are given an activity to continue their nature exploration at home. 

For Kauffman, virtual events have offered a way to carry the spirit of the Schuylkill Center into people’s homes, expanding the audience, and hopefully, the staff’s impact.

“There’s beneficial effects of nature on people, particularly children,” Kauffman said. “It’s really important to get them out and playing in the mud.”

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