The other “new normal”- natural disasters

Recovery in natural lands

In September 2021, Upper Dublin Township was hit by an EF-2 tornado which ripped through several parks, devastating natural areas. I was responsible for overseeing debris removal and restoration in these natural areas. With strong storms predicted to increase, we can’t assume they won’t affect us. Nothing can make the recovery process easy, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from our experience.

Tannerie Run Park, September 2021. This 8.5-acre park was directly in the path of the tornado.

Keep a log of culverts, trails, and other infrastructure in the natural areas of your parks. Take photos and keep records of any upkeep, for example, cleaning debris out of culverts or removing hazardous trees.

Clearly mark your property boundaries. Under our emergency debris management contract, contractors could only work on public property. We had many of our park boundaries clearly marked in advance. This made it easier for crews to work efficiently, without constant guidance on property lines, and to keep heavy equipment off of neighbors’ properties, especially when it was difficult to see through thick debris. You may not have access to maps or computers after a storm, so familiarize yourself and other staff with property lines before a storm hits.

Take photographs. Always remember to photograph damaged amenities, including hazardous trees, before beginning cleanup.

Determine your course of action for restoration. Will you replant an area, clear debris but let it regrow naturally, or leave it as-is? Here are a few things to consider:

 Is the park heavily trafficked? Will amenities or previous investments be undermined by doing nothing? These parks may be priorities for restoration.

● Successful plantings require regular mowing, maintenance, and invasive species control for several years. If your organization doesn’t have the capacity to absorb this additional work, replanting may be a wasted investment.

● How many trees survived? In forests that kept the majority of their tree canopy, we opted to let them repopulate the area on their own. Forests that lost most of their trees needed a jumpstart through planting.

● How many invasive plants were present? In forests that have dense invasive species populations, native species may struggle to regenerate.

Plan erosion control measures with long-term maintenance in mind. Erosion control measures may be needed, and some of these can be integrated with long-term site plans to reduce future headaches. For example, we seeded one park with winter rye for erosion control, which is less persistent and weedy than the more commonly used annual rye, to avoid excessive competition as we re-establish native trees.

Retention tree

Retain some trees- even if they aren’t pretty. We planned to retain as many trees as possible. Though they won’t fully recover, they provide wildlife habitat, continued shade, root sprouts and seeds to speed regeneration, and large root systems to stabilize soil.

We stuck to a few guidelines when choosing which trees to retain:

● Don’t retain trees that could hit private property, trails, or other targets if they fail.

● Retain as many trees as possible along streams.

● Shoot for 3-6 snags per acre for wildlife, with particular attention to den trees (trees with cavities).

Research prior to planting. If you are planning to replant, check out sources on successful large-scale planting, such as  Stroud Water Resource Center (which focuses on streamside plantings, but many of the same practices apply on uplands).

Don’t give up on your parks. I was amazed at how quickly nature began to recover, and our parks began flourishing again. Don’t write them off too soon.

Tannerie Run Park, November 2021. Logs from the site were used to slow water on steep slopes.
March 2022, following erosion control, seeding, and planting. Trees were planted in rows for easier mowing, and tubes were installed for deer protection.
August 2022, the site has begun to recover and over 200 trees are sprouting above the tops of their tubes.
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Finding Your Way Through Parks & Trails with Technology

by Sandi L. Feight-Hicks

As Parks & Recreation Professionals we know every nook and cranny in our parks and on our trails.  Not every person who visits our facilities and decides to walk a trail is confident where they are or understands where they are going. 

Lower Gwynedd Township has over 25 miles of non-continuous walking trails throughout the community.  Like any other municipality, we have paper maps with the parks, trails and street names.  Once upon a time, prior to Google Maps we had written directions on our website to our parks.  It’s hard to imagine a time when we had to guess where we were going. In our life time we have seen so many advances in technology. 

I decided several years ago it was much easier for park visitors to use a google map to get accurate directions to our parks.  After creating maps for each of our parks in Google Maps, our webmaster was able to embed those images into our website (lowergwynedd.org). Today, in total our Park maps have had over 78K views. 

Since the pandemic trail use has grown tremendously, many people sought out new places to walk and explore.  I can thank Google Maps for this as well, since our trails appear on the application. Since the pandemic, I have fielded many calls asking where trails are.  A vast majority of the phone calls in the last several years have been, “where does that trail go?”, “I have seen this trail but not certain where it leads or ends” & “why can’t you make an interactive map?”

Why can’t you make an interactive map?  This question stood out in my mind.  I focus on users experience and how they will benefit.  After finding one of the map links broken on our website, I realized I had the answer. I already had a base map with all the trails. I thought about what people inquired about; reference points, entrance, exit, junctions, distance, parking, surface materials, etc.  I began to enhance the map.  I defined the trail lines, “to and from”, distance, and surface material.  At each trail head, I dropped a pin point, changed the icon to a hiker and added photos.  At trail junctions, another pin point was added with a camera, these photos were panorama.  I’m mindful of resident’s homes and backyards, as to not capture them.  Parking areas were added later along with other park amenities. Using the navigation technology in Google Maps, the additional blue fan hue indicates your orientation.  If you turn around, that fan will spin as well.   From here you can navigate by foot to the trail head and walk the trail.  In the three months the map has been live we have had over 4K views. 

This map is a living document, along with the trail identification system, and it must be maintained. From a development perspective, this was not a small task, but Township Staff have the ability to make real time changes for the real time users.  Our Park & Trail users now have the assurances that the interactive trail map they have on their phone and in their pocket is up to date and will show them where they are.

Celebrating PA State Parks and Forests Week

Snippet: PA State Parks and Forests Week is a time to get outside and play. It is also a time to consider the other benefits our public lands provide to us – and to give back to them in a way that lets you use your “outside voice.”

by Pam Metzger, PA Parks & Forests Foundation

I bet your mother said the same thing to you as mine to me when I posted a question about there not being a “Kids” day if there was a “Mothers Day” and a “Fathers Day.” “Because EVERY DAY is Kids Day,” she’d say.

You might react the same way to the idea of celebrating PA State Parks and Forests Week. When you are immersed in outdoor recreation, EVERY week is Parks and Forests Week! However, in 2018 (the 125th anniversary of the state parks and forests systems), the week between May 23 and May 30 was officially designated as such by Proclamation of the Governor.

And the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation has been encouraging its celebration ever since.

Why those dates? May 23 represents the anniversary of the establishment of the Commonwealth’s first state park. And while Valley Forge has now gone on to become a national park, the area was designated as a state park first – on May 23, 1893.

And May 30? That is the date on which the Forestry Commission was formed by the General Assembly tasked with forest fire and to establish a forest reserve system. Their first purchase of 7,500 acres in Clinton County (which eventually became Sproul State Forest) happened five years later.

What does it mean to “celebrate” the state parks and forests? Chances are good that you will take any excuse you have to go out and enjoy the public lands near you. After all, Department of Forests and Waters (now DCNR) Secretary Maurice K. Goddard made it the goal of the agency to place a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian. So you don’t have to work hard to find one of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks or 20 forest districts.

Still, “celebration” takes on a few forms additional to recreation. We – as you – take care to remind everyone that time spent in the outdoors is vital to our health and well-being. In fact, we commissioned the creation of several videos on the subject of the outdoors and emotional, mental, and physical health, including one in Spanish. Find them (and share them, please) on our YouTube channel, easily accessed at https://ppff.online/utube-playlist-benefits-videos (along with a video on the economic benefits of those same outdoor spaces).

Finally, to celebrate the outdoors means to “use your outside voice” to speak for those places. Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests alone face a $1.4 billion backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects. Unstable dams, accessible recreation amenities no longer wheelchair or stroller friendly, trees lost to invasive species like hemlock wooly adelgid or emerald ash borer, restrooms and other buildings crucial to visitor contentment compromised. The opportunity to recapture some of that deficient backlog, in the form of $175 million from the American Rescue Plan, is within our reach.

Let’s all celebrate PA Parks & Forests Week by encouraging our state representatives and senators to support HB 2020 and SB 525. Go to https://ppff.online/take-action to send a message.

Setting priorities for invasive species management: Don’t get lost in the weeds

Stick to the plan. I recently found myself repeating this mantra as I worked to remove invasive plants in a township park. The park has been overgrown by invasive species for years. As a natural resource manager, I found myself easily distracted by all the work that needs to be done. I have often doled out advice to land managers about how to set priorities and break down projects into manageable tasks, but it was time to follow it myself.

Do what you can do. Don’t do what you can’t.

The challenge of managing invasive plants on your property can be daunting. It may seem obvious, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves: only do what you can do. Do what is manageable within the scope of your resources. If a project is too big- it might not be right to tackle at this time. Better to choose a project that can be done to completion, and will only require routine maintenance to sustain.

“Do nothing” is an option

Every area of our parks is managed for a certain goal, whether that be a forest, meadow, or ball field. Not every project will improve our ability to meet those goals. Does this project serve those goals? If not, it is ok to move onto the next one.

Break things down into manageable tasks

When faced with a large project, don’t be overwhelmed by the task in its entirety. Focus on what needs to be done this year or this month. Removing the vines. Cutting back the first 50 feet along the trail. Then next year, you can tackle the next step. Often we don’t tackle a project because it seems too big. But once we change our perspective, the first small steps become possible.

Make a plan, but know that the plan can change

Develop a management plan for your parks, but think of it as a living document. What areas need immediate attention, and which can be put off until later? Make a timeline for each step of your plan. As factors change, adjust your plan accordingly. Making a point of revisiting and revising the plan 1-2 times a year can help to keep it realistic.

Never overlook the power of volunteers

I was recently working at a park that had a wall of thorny invasive species. I wanted to tackle it with a volunteer group, but was worried that it would be overwhelming. But my volunteers were intrepid. Within only a few hours, we had broken through the wall. Never be the barrier to what your volunteers accomplish. Allow them to work to their full potential. For more info on developing your volunteer base, here are some great words of wisdom.

The task of managing natural areas can be overwhelming with all the challenges we face, from too many deer to too few staff. Look at your goals and set priorities to meet them. Plan ahead, but focus on the task at hand. And you may stay out of the weeds.

Resiliency in the great outdoors

by Gwenyth Loose, Executive Director, York County Rail Trail Authority

re·sil·ience
/rəˈzilyəns/
noun

1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

January 2021 started out with a young, black women stepping out onto a sunlit national stage to declare in bold poetic terms and with graceful waving arms, “…the dawn is ours before we knew it.” Twenty-two-year-old Amanda Gorman never once uttered the word “resilience,” and yet in her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” she eloquently told the world, “Somehow, we do it. Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed…” Hers was a story of truth sounding more like fiction, a story set in catastrophe, yet ending with a call to resilience, “A new dawn blooms if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.”

And so Amanda can make us feel good about our own resilience in the face of the many challenges of 2020. But perhaps as one who cares deeply about the natural environment, I reflect more on the resilience of the future – a resilience that effects all species and all landscapes and is never-ending. This is climate resilience.

I was first introduced to this phrase as I was preparing one of those challenging PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources grant applications in early spring 2020. Now, we all want to get our responses just right, scoring as many points as possible on each essay question. So I studied. I read. I noted all the buzz words. And I prepared responses sure to impress a dedicated team of grants’ reviewers, knowing full well the enormous army of parks & recreation professional all across the Commonwealth who were doing the same thing. Then I hit on this phrase, “climate resilience. “ Hmmm, it made me stop and think, “What does this have to do with my project?” and of course, “How can I score big by using this phrase in the project’s scope of work, budget, etc?” You get the picture – I wanted to win on the use of two words.

I began by checking a Google dictionary to find that climate resilience can be generally defined as the capacity for an ecological system to absorb stresses and maintain function in the face of external stresses imposed upon it by climate change. Then I got a bit more advanced in my knowledge by studying the difference between adaptation and resilience.

Adaptation refers to those crucial actions or plans that a community or individual will employ against a current or anticipated impact of climate change.

Resilience refers to the ability to recover (bounce back to the original state before the exposure to shock) from the effect of climate change.

Bouncing back and going on seemed to be more relevant to resilience. Amanda’s poem was right on target. I got it.

The project I presented in the April 2020 grant application was design of 6.1 miles of rail trail along a newly acquired, long-dormant, and very overgrown rail corridor. Picture young trees brandishing huge thorns, ankle-twisting poison ivy vines, walls of multiflora rose bushes, and miles of broken railroad ties. I had to be resilient to walk sufficient length of the corridor to get some good photographs to adequately represent the project.

As I made the case for designing a first-class trail where there was now a rail “jungle,” climate resilience grew in importance. In many areas, a beautiful but sorely eroded stream paralleled the rail corridor. Evidence of stormwater damage was everywhere, but most noticeable in areas where the rails hung in mid-air. All their supporting soils had long been washed downstream. And with every new storm event, bank erosion continued. If nothing else, our trail design needed to focus upon climate resilience.

Just as Amanda called upon a nation to celebrate and continue its resilience, we as parks and trails professionals are now called upon to consider climate resilience in every new facility we propose to build. In doing so, we can look forward to lower future maintenance costs. But most of all, it is the right thing to do for our parks and trails and for the species who call these places “home.”

Parks move us forward

What does it really mean to be healthy and well? The PRPS Health and Wellness Committee is continuously looking at this definition, seeing how its changing, and identifying how we can be problem solvers, happiness givers, identity creators and community builders. During the pandemic, its become quite clear that our park’s play a major role in maintaining one’s mental health.

As many of you know, I’m a military veteran. I can probably count on thirty fingers (I have extras) the number of veteran friends I have that struggle with PTSD. Parks are there for them. During the pandemic, with everything shut down, our parks and forests were where these folks found comfort and connection. Walking trails, fishing, teaching their children to hunt. Even though the pandemic has caused a nationwide pause, as individuals and families we psychologically need to feel we are moving forward. Parks helped them move forward.

When I was three years old, my father committed suicide, which understandably became a difficult thing for me and my family to deal with. I can remember many days as a kid being angry, sad, defeated, impulsive. Every single time I felt that way, I would walk out my front door, grab a basketball and go shoot. Sometimes with a bunch of friends and sometimes just me at the foul line. For hours. Parks helped me move forward.

Today, with so much uncertainty regarding the economic, political and social fabric that binds us together, our mental health is more important than ever. The CDC reported in August that 40.9% of survey respondents said the pandemic had negatively affected their mental health, to include anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. This figure is alarmingly up 3-4 times over normal rates.

As a profession, we are always trying to make the argument that we are essential, and the opportunity to cement our story is at our doorstep. As illustrated by record attendance across the state, our residents see the essential value in what we do, parks help everyone move forward.

The Health and Wellness Committee is actively looking to increase mental health and wellness programming and initiatives, and welcomes your ideas! Email me at jlang@eastgoshen.org with your ideas, stories and suggestions!

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm

Parks Are Where We Learn

May 7, 2020 by Amber Stacy & Lydia Konecky

Our job isn’t a job, it’s a calling.

We don’t just teach children about the environment in fun and exciting ways. We build meaningful, sometimes lifelong, relationships and connect individually with our students. This is what the Frick Environmental Center staff live to do. And you can see that it works. The faces of students who return to our classes light up when they see us again, exclaiming,“I remember you!” We can’t tell you how much those moments mean to us.  

It’s a wonderful, mutually beneficial relationship that forms. We value the students who visit the Environmental Center and park and they, in turn, value the Environmental Center and our treasured greenspaces.  

Everything we do brings us and the students joy, but one of our favorite activities is creating seed balls in our ‘mud kitchen’ with first graders in our Habitat Explorers class. The students explore the meadow in Frick Park, collect seedlings then make seed balls to help new meadow plants grow for the next generation of first graders who will explore and experience the wonders of Frick Park.  

Newly shaped seed balls in hand, palms delightfully muddy, the Explorers stomp happily back over to the meadow to heave their seed balls into nature, letting out a gleeful shout in the process. They then whisper a wish to the seed ball for it to grow and prosper in the park for the next group of Habitat Explorers.  

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Our favorite part of the whole day? It’s the dirty hands. Kids are often told to stay clean and look sharp. But that’s not what being a kid is all about. You remember that feeling, I’m sure. The delight of rolling up your sleeves in dirt and just having a great time. That’s what we deliver every day to the kids. Joy and delight, and memories that will stay with them until they have children of their own.  

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 A child once said to us, “My mom told me that if I get my hands dirty then I’m having a good day!” Now we ask the kids, “How many of you are having a good day today” and they all enthusiastically thrust up their dirty hands. It’s amazing.  

Sincerely, Amber Stacey and Lydia Konecky, Naturalist Educators

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