Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Day of Service to the Forest

For the second year in a row, the Pennypack Trust sponsored a Day of Service on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  Like they did last year, the 15 volunteers who came out to work readied an area for reforestation in the spring by gathering large woody debris into a central location.  The volunteers concentrated their efforts in the wooded 5-acre tract immediately adjacent to the Trust's headquarters on Edge Hill Road.
Woody debris is important in the forest ecosystem, but our degraded woodlands are under siege by invasive plants, and the branches, limbs and logs on the forest floor prevent the land stewardship staff from gaining access to new planting sites.  New plantings need to be kept clear of non-native plants - especially vines.
The former owner of this land planted non-native pachysandra; it's visible in the background as a green "blanket"
So, we've weighed our management options and have made the decision to remove the maintenance obstacles.
Besides, there's always more wood falling from the canopy as the mature trees shed limbs and topple over during storms.  The forest floor won't remain "clear" for long.

Submitted by David Robertson
Executive  Director

Monday, January 20, 2014

At the Edge

Mary and I are having our 25-year-old couches reupholstered and have been working with a fabric and upholstery store located near the mouth of Pennypack Creek.  On Saturday, we went to pick up the finished upholstery, and took a walk along the creek while we were there.

The Pennypack flows south out of the Pennypack Preserve, enters Montgomery County's Lorimer Park, then crosses the line into the city of Philadelphia where it flows within Pennypack Park all the way to its mouth at the Delaware River.  About two miles upstream of its mouth, the creek falls off the hard edge of North America and flows onto sediments deposited on the shallow continental shelf - the Coastal Plain.  The transition from the hard, ancient Piedmont rock so familiar to visitors to the Pennypack Preserve to the sandy Coastal Plain - the fall line - is dramatic.
Pennypack Creek at the fall line
The creek rushes over resistant bedrock and creates a series of rapids at the fall line.  Early European colonists took full advantage of the transition by building a dam on top of the rapids and harnessing the water power for a mill - the most southerly (downstream) of the 28 mills that at one time operated along the creek.  In the image above, the rocky ruins of the massive dam are still in place on the opposite side of the creek, and some of the ruins of the mill are visible as a stone wall in the background.

The Piedmont bedrock at the fall line displays graphic evidence of the repeated stresses experienced by the rock at the edge of the continent.  North America and Africa have collided with one another on at least two occasions, and the bedrock, composed  mostly of dull, gray metamorphic gneiss, is twisted and bent like taffy.  In addition, other types of rock have gotten caught-up in the collisions and been incorporated into the cooled "taffy" like the quartzite in the image above, and the granite in the image below.

A stone studded with mica
Silvery flakes of mica are abundant in some of the rocks.  In the sunlight, the rock above glistened hypnotically.  If I'd been much younger and in an acquisitive (rather than de-acquisitive stage in my life), I would have brought the rock back with me.  The image hardly does it justice.
Fish ladder
A few hundred feet upstream of the fall line, state agencies have constructed a fish ladder in the creek.  Pennypack Creek once was spawning ground for anadromous shad that returned from the ocean to spawn, just like salmon.  With the construction of colonial dams for water power, the shad were excluded from their historic spawning streams and their populations plummeted.  There's an effort to remove dams and restore shad runs in some of their historic streams, including the Pennypack.  This fish ladder was created to allow the shad to swim over a sanitary sewer line partially buried in the streambed; the sewer pipes formed enough of a barrier that the fish could not ascend beyond them, so the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission built this series of riffles and pools.  In addition, they released many thousand hatchery-raised fingerling Hickory Shad into the creek in the hopes that some will return to spawn.
The pools created by this fish ladder have become very popular swimming holes with members of the Hispanic community in the neighborhood.  Although swimming is prohibited, and the creek is far too "impaired" for safe contact, that doesn't stop the kids from cooling off.  Fortunately, if the shad begin to use the creek for spawning again, they would return in March and not have to contend with crowds of kids.

Requisite sycamore-against-blue sky image
Just a few hundred feet downstream of the fall line, the creek is spanned by the oldest extant bridge in the United States: the Frankford Avenue (King's Highway) Bridge, built in 1797.  The King's Highway, constructed during the English colonial period, connected Philadelphia and New York City, and ran approximately along the fall line.  The highway replaced a Native American pathway that traced the same route.  The bridge is a National Engineering Landmark.
The fall line's a pretty "happening" place!

Submitted by David Robertson
Executive Director