Watershed Protection

Bristol Borough marsh joins alliance to protect waterways

Posted: Friday, June 30, 2017
Source: Bucks County Courier Times

What does it take to clean the Delaware River? A major Philadelphia nonprofit believes the answer is environmental advocacy at the grassroots level, and is spending $4.6 million to prove it.

The William Penn Foundation is granting that money to 23 environmental education centers located throughout the 13,500-square-mile Delaware River watershed, as part of its “Alliance for Watershed Education” program. Representatives gathered at the Philadelphia Water Works Tuesday to celebrate the launch of the initiative.

Speakers said a key function of the program is the creation of summer fellowships at each center, including the Bristol Marsh Nature Preserve in Bristol Borough, to foster community outreach and programming.

“Collectively, we aim to empower communities to create healthy watersheds by increasing people's appreciation, knowledge and stewardship of the rivers and streams and land that surrounds them,” said Amy Weidensaul, director of community conservation and education with the nonprofit Audubon Pennsylvania.

Bucks County's lone participating partner is the Doylestown Township-based Heritage Conservancy. As part of its efforts to protect and promote the environment in the county, the nonprofit holds ownership of Bristol Marsh, an 11-acre freshwater tidal marsh located between the far southern end of Bristol Borough and the former Rohm & Haas property, now owned by Dow Chemical.

“It's a place where you can see how nature cleanses,” said Jeff Marshall, president of the Heritage Conservancy. “The tide goes in and out, and that's why it's special. There are plants and animals there that are endangered because that kind of habitat is disappearing.”

Marshall said he knows the marsh isn't as pretty as the Grand Canyon; at high tide, he said it can be quite muddy. But the marsh is one of the few remaining freshwater tidal marshes along the Delaware, and supports native plant life. The marsh also acts as a buffer for flooding between the river and the borough and naturally filters pollutants from heavily developed Lower Bucks before they reach the river.

He believes education about the property is essential to winning local support and engaging volunteers.

“You connect people to nature, you explain to people why the watershed, why the natural features of our region, are important,” Marshall said.

Key to the new initiative will be the efforts of 22-year-old Jessica Kraus, the summer fellow for the marsh and a Harleysville native. Kraus grew up spending her weekends boating and hiking at Nockamixon State Park, and aims to boost outdoor enjoyment in the lower part of the county.

“Our goal is to really develop a stronger, more permanent volunteer base and to get businesses more engaged as well,” Kraus said. “A lot of people just don't know the marsh is there. They don't know why it's such an interesting ecological feature and the impact it has on them every day.”

As part of her fellowship, which began in May and runs through August, Kraus is reaching out to business owners and local residents to educate them on the marsh and encourage volunteering and recreational activities. A community engagement meeting is scheduled at the borough's Grundy Library at 10 a.m. on July 8 to hear from residents about what they'd like to see happen at the marsh and what would encourage them to visit the site.

Kraus also will spend some of her time supporting efforts for Croydon Woods, an 80-acre property acquired by the Heritage Conservancy from Dow in 2016. Located directly east of Keystone Elementary School, the property is one of the area's last wetland forests. Marshall said the conservancy plans to build hiking trails through the property, but wants to hear ideas from residents.

“Do they want trails, bicycle racks, a kayak tie-up?” Marshall asked. “What would make them get out and enjoy Bristol Marsh, Croydon Woods and Silver Lake Nature Center?”

As the Heritage Conservancy works to create local awareness and support for the Lower Bucks properties, 22 similar entities will do the same across the Delaware Valley as part of the alliance. The list of participants ranges from an education center for Cobbs Creek in Northeast Philadelphia, to various entities along the Schuylkill River all the way to Berks County, to nonprofits in Delaware and New Jersey, and as far north as the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Pike County.

Alliance members said Tuesday that they'll share best practices and strategies, and hope that the watershed-wide initiative will lead to strong grassroots support for larger water protection programs and regulations.

To increase awareness, the William Penn Foundation's $4.6 million grant also is supporting “River Days” programming each fall, in which dozens of free community events will be held throughout the region.

Bristol Marsh will hold two events: a trash cleanup on Sept. 30 and a free guided hike and volunteer bird survey on Oct. 14.

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