Schuylkill Center to Host Green Town Meeting This Week

Fracking (and how to tax it) has been a major issue in the Pennsylvania governor's race between incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett and his challenger, Tom Wolf, but what about all the other environmental problems you care about: Clean water? Bicycling infrastructure? Alternative energy?

From 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 9, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is hosting a Green Town Hall Meeting with panelists including Michael Krancer, Governor Corbett’s first DEP chief, environmental attorney Robert Fox; the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s Sarah Clark Stuart; and Jamie Gauthier, executive director of the Sustainable Business Network of Philadelphia.

“Understanding the relationship between the environment and politics is as important as understand the interactions of water, soil, and plant life," says Mike Weilbacher, executive director of the Schuylkill Center. "The Green Town Meeting fits into our work to encourage environmental stewardship."
And if the the fate of our Commonwealth's air, land, and water isn't enough to bring you out, there will be Yards beer too. 
Tickets are free, but please RSVP.


Get Schooled by Nature

Maybe you've been learning how to tell your silver maples from your reds, or you've been psyched to see the monarchs starting to flutter by on their way down to Mexico, or you've been trying to learn more about those native sparrows on your smartphone bird identification app. Ready to take your knowledge of urban nature a little deeper?

Dive in at the University of Nature, a full day immersion in natural history at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education on Sept. 27 (but hurry, registration closes Sept. 19). You can choose from nine workshops and lectures on a variety of topics including the future of Pennsylvania's forests, raising environmental consciousness through ecocritical art, and the wild world of beetles.

Schuylkill Center Executive Director Mike Weilbacher, who will be talking about the ecology of autumn wildflowers, said the Center intends to deliver this sort of program at least once a year as a way to educate people seeking high quality environmental and ecological information. "If you want deeper information than a nature walk, this is the way to do it," he says.

Cost for members is $45, non-members $50, students $45. Register by Sept. 12 to get $5 off registration.

Responsible for our Rain: An eco-art installation shows how we can give rain its time and its place

Rain meets a forest or a meadow at the leaves, glancing and dripping on its way to the underbrush and cushioned floor. It is a gentle trip to the ground, where the raindrops can soak into the ground slowly if they're not sucked up by roots. Rain meets a building at its roof and is quickly channeled into gutters and downspouts, reaching the ground as a scouring stream of stormwater.

On the scale of the entire city of Philadelphia, this storm water flushes into our creeks and rivers, taking with it raw sewage, turning nearly every significant rain into a Clean Water Act violation. Philadelphia's Green City, Clean Waters plan endeavors to fix this problem through a range of measures. Many of these use soil, plants and other permeable surfaces to slow the rain and give it time and space to soak into the ground.

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Art makes space for rain at the Schuylkill Center

This Friday, May 31, environmental artist Stacy Levy will be presenting “Rain Garden,” an interactive art piece advocating for a new relationship between people and rain.

The piece, recently installed at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, is built around a newly planted garden on the ground level. Blue spiraling rain gutters carry rainwater from the adjacent building onto the surface of the garden. A wire catwalk creates a platform above the garden, allowing for people to gather and observe the garden without disturbing the plant life or getting their feet wet. An additional spiral rain gutter connects from a pump operated cistern to a series of 5 galvanized trough filled with different surfaces: concrete, asphalt, gravel, lawn, and meadow. Kids can pump the water and direct it onto the various surfaces to observe how the materials of our modern environment interact with rain water.

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Beyond the Surface: Conference Focuses on Environmental Art in Action

How can environmental art engage the environment and the individual, activate awareness, and integrate perspectives that result in unexpected and innovative approaches to environmental literacy? Join the Schuylkill Center  for Environmental Education in a daylong conference of ideas and innovative thinking, investigating relationships between art and nature. 

While the natural world has captured the imagination of artists for centuries, today more and more artists are thinking beyond the studio, blending art, science and social practice with a fresh sense of immediacy, connecting art to nature and environmental issues. No longer content with scratching the surface of environmental problems, these artists want to move beyond the surface to engage audiences in becoming part of the solution.

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New photo exhibit gives an overlooked forest amphibian the attention it deserves

A photo from "The Cryptic Ones" exhibit at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education this month. | Photo by Brandon BallengéeSo much of life is out of view. Looking down at a forest floor we see tree bases, some bushes, leaf litter. We don’t easily see the enormous fungi networks that make up the healthy forest soil. We miss the hordes of tiny bugs eating leaf litter, the fungi and each other. And we can completely forget the cryptic little predators that are the lions, the tigers, the eagles of this world.

Take, for example, salamanders. Even when we catch a glimpse of the lowly red-backed salamander, it’s too tiny to take seriously. Collectively salamanders help keep their vast food webs in balance, but they’re too easy to write off as little critters who squirm out of view.

"The Cryptic Ones," an exhibition at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, challenges us to take another look. These scanned salamander portraits by Brandon Ballengée, an artist and professor at New York’s School of Visual Arts, show salamanders at a scale we can appreciate. There are candy-orange northern red salamanders, red-spotted newts and black slimy salamanders flecked with shimmering silver dots like stars against the night sky.

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Future Weather: Help kick-start the launch of locally-made environmental film

After a world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend, locally filmed Future Weather is hoping to make its way to the big screen.

Shot and produced in the Philadelphia area, the independently-made film follows the relationships of three generations of Midwestern women—specifically the abandoned eighth-grader Laudure (Perla Haney-Jardine), whose passion for nature and concern about climate change is a driving theme.

Writer-director Jenny Deller brought environmental consciousness off-screen as well, working to produce the film as sustainably as possible with special note to energy conservation and renewable materials. Deller took advantage of local resources, shooting at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the Pennypack Ecological Center, and having the cast stay at Philadelphia’s only LEED Gold-certified hotel, the Hotel Palomar. Local green businesses provided organic catering, on-set composting and reusable water bottles. And props and set-dressing were purchased second-hand. Check out the film’s blog for a more detailed look at sustainable production practices.

Although the recipient of various grants, the film needs a final chunk of funding for its distribution phase. Visit Future Weather’s Kickstarter page to donate, purchase tickets, and learn more about the film. Pledges will be accepted until May 9.

Season for Art: Philly artists showcase eco-themes in current exhibits

Elaine Kurtz, Untitled, 2002, Image via Canary PromotionLast week, we reviewed South Philly artist Shelley Spector’s “Dreck Groove” exhibit on display at Breadboard’s Esther Klein Gallery. The exhibit (February 17 to March 30) features Spector’s use of reclaimed materials to display embroidery representing recent natural disasters. 

But Spector isn’t the only artist showcasing environmentally-centric work this month. 

Philadelphia artist Elaine Kurtz, known for her nature-based work, has two exhibits at the Woodmere Museum this spring. A Retrospective is a celebration of her abstractions that use mud, sand and pulverized minerals. Elemental will incorporate other Philadelphia artists who also use nature as inspiration. The entire exhibit, A Retrospective and Elemental: Nature as Language in the Works of Philadelphia Artists, will be open Feb. 17 to April 22.

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Coming up Roses: Think spring thoughts with gardening workshops this month

Image via

Mother Nature’s tease of spring-like weather probably has you ready to swap your gloves and snow shovels for gardening supplies. But while winter is still sticking for a few more weeks, it’s never too early to start planning your gardening.

Throughout the month of February local gardening gurus are holding a number of workshops teaching everything from seed starting to composting to orchard growing. So break out the seed catalog and start thinking about bringing some life to your backyard! For more gardening events, check the Grid calendar.  

Saturday, February 4

  • Amending Your Soil Workshop (12 – 2 p.m.) Learn how to amend your garden soil and get your beds ready for spring. Greensgrow Farm, 2501 E. Cumberland St.
  • Worm Composting Collective (12 - 2 p.m.) Build your own worm-bin and learn how to care for your new compost pets. Pre-Registration required. $20 for members $30 for non-members. Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, 8480 Hagy's Mill Rd.  

Wednesday, February 8

  • In-home Composting (6 - 7 p.m.) Learn how to turn food scraps into nutrient-rich compost with Green Guide Holly Logan. Sustainable 19125, 2446 Coral St.
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A Great Disruption: Grid and Schuylkill Center host book discussion

A new Grid issue will be hitting stands soon, but if you’re looking for a sustainability fix, join us this Thursday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. for the first in a series of conversations hosted by The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.

Alex Mulcahy, Grid’s publisher, and Mike Weilbacher, executive director at the SCEE, will be offering their personal and professional insight on Paul Gilding’s provocative book The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.  

The Great Disruption provides an alternate point-of-view to the upcoming economic and environmental challenges humanity will encounter in the next few decades, and the important role sustainability can play.

Come prepared for an interactive discussion on this important issue. The event is free and no registration is required. For more information visit

The Local Tweet: Philly birds in the news

Image via allaboutbirds.orgHere's something worth tweeting about: The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is doing a bird census this Saturday, January 7, and they're looking for volunteers. Don't worry, budding ornithologists, no experience is required. You can join their birding team to help collect important data about wintering bird populations. My phone is predicting a beautiful day, sunny and 51 degrees, and to sweeten the deal, the SCEE will provide coffee, tea and light breakfast foods.

In other bird news, the Spruce Hill Bird Sanctuary, who we'll be covering in our next issue, is looking for some help, too. Located at Spruce & Locust, 45th & Melville Streets, this unique urban green space is a neighborhood spot, but open to the public as well (the entrance is next to 233 S. Melville). They're looking for bird food, plant material and cold, hard cash

Nature Boy: Mike Weilbacher, new head of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, on the importance of educating children and adults on environmental issues

For a self-described “ecology geek” like Mike Weilbacher, the chance to direct the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education—Northwest Philly’s 340-acre green treasure—is a dream realized. Formerly executive director of Lower Merion Conservancy and, for the last year, Abington’s Briar Bush Nature Center, the Long Island native is one month into his new post, and busy creating new programming that will attract both children and adults to what he refers to as the “Mother Ship” of local nature centers.

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