by JB Hyppolite
Dennis Miranda, 51, a passionate conservationist, avid birder and trail expert with a broad grasp of environmental issues, was hired as the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association’s (WVWA) Executive Director last month with a goal to “ramp up appreciation” in terms of programs and projects and have people feel great in the nature that surrounds them.
“This association is a well positioned organization that continues its efforts of preserving the water quality of the creek, preserving open space, protecting natural resources and preserving those values.”
Dennis insists that Philadelphia is a leader in this nation when it comes to preserving open space and maintaining its park system. “It is an area beloved by the community. Whether you are a passive recreationist or an active recreationist, you are in an area that has a great tradition.”
Since 1957, WVWA has been protecting the local environment in the 64 square miles of the Wissahickon Creek’s watershed. They protect over 1,200 acres of natural open space in Montgomery County. Their Camp Woods (they refer to it as New Old Grove) is a typical example of preserving an open space. The forest at that location has a 150-year-old minimum average for each tree.
Its beech and oak trees haven’t been harmed since the Battle of Germantown in 1777, and according to Dennis, the entire forest landscape looks pretty much as it did before Columbus’s arrival in the New World. “Our greatest challenge is to help find ways to regenerate the forest…The park-like feel of the forest is not a true forest until we restore the understory, and that is something we are wrestling with now,” he said.
Dennis’ life as a conservationist began June 5, 1984. He took out a map while volunteering at the Newark Watershed in North Jersey. His job was to preserve open space in the highlands of New Jersey. That particular effort led to Dennis’ being hired as the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s first Urban Parks Project Manager. He was there for 10 years and was able to develop the necessary skills to undertake environmental challenges on both a suburban and urban landscape.
“We’re still trying to preserve our natural functioning ecosystems,” he said. “We don’t have much open space or wild lands left … People like to live where they can see nature and enjoy nature. Unfortunately though, in urban, suburban landscapes, we have very little of it left.”
Dennis was in Gainesville, Florida as Executive Director of the Florida Trail Association before he accepted his new position at Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association. Though it was a transition leaving 80-degree weather to come north to a colder climate, Dennis is comfortable with the Mid-Atlantic region due to his northern New Jersey roots. He was also an Executive Director for the Rahway River Association in Northern New Jersey between 2004 and 2010.
When it comes to learning more about nature within the Philadelphia area, Dennis suggested participating in programs by Friends of the Wissahickon, which organizes many interpretive walks and nature talks. “These (park) areas anchor the community, help stabilize property values and continue providing the magnet for business because people want to live here,” he said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”
While Dennis grew up in North Jersey, he would go hiking and bird watching in the New Jersey Meadowlands. When he got his first car, he went to the New Jersey Highlands. Wherever he moved, he would always have to find the wilderness. “I go to the Adirondacks. I go to Maine. I’ve traveled down the states … Increasingly with more people living in urban and rural areas, we lose our touch with nature. Yet without nature we can’t survive or thrive. My most passionate challenge is to involve families and kids in appreciating and becoming aware in embracing our natural heritage.”
Dennis graduated from St. Peter’s College, majoring in Political Science and History. His hobbies include bird watching, hiking, butterfly watching, mountain biking and gardening. His wife is named Martha; they have a son, Pedro, a sixth grade honor roll student, and a daughter, Ariana, who is studying astrobiology at the University of Florida. The family will soon be moving here and living in Wyndmoor.
The Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association is headquartered at 12 Morris Rd. in Ambler. More information at www.wvwa.org or 215-646-8866.