Controversy over the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s proposal to sell 24 acres of Roxborough green space has come to an end.
Months of controversy over the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s proposal to sell 24 acres of green space in Roxborough for development has come to an end with the announcement last week that the land has been placed into a permanent conservation easement, protecting the land from development forever.
The land’s preservation is the result of donors who came forward with a $3 million gift to fund the purchase and permanent preservation of the land. This gift, made through Vanguard Charitable, was provided by entities affiliated with longtime Schuylkill Center supporters and environmentalists Jessica Berwind and Joanna Berwind.
The donation – the Center’s largest ever – eliminates all development rights on the property, locally known as the Boy Scout Tract. The newly preserved tract will join the 340-acre main campus of protected land to bring the Center to 365 acres, the largest preserved private property in Philadelphia.
“The Berwind sisters and their families are eager to see the Center leverage this gift into becoming a world-class Center for generations to come through its people, programming, and campus, enriching the local community at a time when development continues to replace green space in the city,” the family said in a statement.
“We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of the Berwind sisters,” said Marilyn Tinari, president of the Center’s board of trustees. “Our duty as stewards is to engage with the earth sustainably, and sometimes, as in this case, not to engage at all but to act as guardians to preserve it as is. This gift will enable us to secure in perpetuity a significant piece of open space for Philadelphia.”
The 24-acre parcel, originally given to the Center by one of its founding families, is located along Port Royal Avenue, fronting on Eva Street. The Center engaged Natural Lands, the region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization, to create the conservation easement on the property. Currently, Natural Lands holds the easement on the Center's 340-acre main campus.
"We are honored to expand our longstanding relationship with the Schuylkill Center to protect this important landscape in the city,” said Oliver Bass, president of Natural Lands. “This conservation success isn’t just a legal document; it is a commitment to preserve and nurture nature for generations to come."
The donation comes at a pivotal time for the Schuylkill Center. Erin Mooney, the Center’s interim executive director, said the gift "allows us to meet the future with a vision we can put into action."
“This deep investment in the mission of the Schuylkill Center is transformational for the Center and the city of Philadelphia,” Mooney said. “This historic gift unlocks future funding opportunities for the Center, including other gifts from foundations and donors and opportunities for state grants that require matching funds.”
The Center is engaging in a strategic process with stakeholders to consider how best to leverage the $3 million donation. Ideas include expanding education programs, improving trails and facilities, and acquiring additional land.
Since its founding in 1965, the Schuylkill Center has protected more than 400 acres of open space in Roxborough, including its main campus. Bounded by Port Royal Avenue, Hagys Mill Road, Spring Lane, and the Schuylkill River Trail, the Center’s programs operate on the main campus made up of forests, fields, streams, and meadows.
With the addition of the newly protected Boy Scout Tract, the Schuylkill Center now stewards 365 acres of preserved land in Philadelphia - cementing its status as the city's largest private nature preserve. Thanks to the generosity of the Berwind sisters, 24 more acres of green space will be protected forever in a city where open space is increasingly rare.