The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has awarded Neshaminy School District an Environmental Stewardship and Watershed Protection Grant (also known as the Growing Greener Grant) in the amount of $100,339.00.
This grant was established under the Commonwealth’s Environmental Stewardship and Watershed Protection Act (1999) with the goal of restoring impaired waterways and protecting them from nonpoint source pollution throughout Pennsylvania. Three science teachers at Neshaminy High School (James Maloney, James Murray and Brian Suter) applied for the grant with approval and assistance from school and District administration in 2020. They proposed to use the grant funds to repair and improve the 120-acre Idlewood Environmental Station, a forested area between the high school and Neshaminy Creek.
Established in the 1970’s, Idlewood has been used as a classroom extension for science and physical education classes. Multiple trails run through the area, which are used by students and the community for activities such as hiking, mountain biking and environmental studies. The NHS Environmental Action Club uses it for bird watching, maple sap collection (and maple syrup production), and tree planting as part of a reforestation and species diversification effort. Students have planted over 100 trees over the last several years and maintained a database which includes growth rates and tree variety. The area was closed for use in 2017 due to hazards presented by standing dead trees, the result of extensive damage caused by the invasive emerald ash borer beetle. This not only presented a safety issue for those visiting the area, but also environmental issues related to soil stability and water runoff in affected areas. Many of the dead ash trees are in areas on trails that lead downhill to the creek.
With funds from this grant, the District will be able to fell and remove dead timber, plant new native trees and shrubs to stabilize the soil and prevent soil loss into the creek, and improve trails to prevent additional soil loss and safely open access to Idlewood once again. The trail improvements will also contribute to improved water quality by reducing surface water runoff. A ten-foot wire fence will be added to keep deer out of the area and protect the new plantings. The area will be treated as an “experimental forest” that environmental science classes and clubs at the high school can use to study growth rates, biodiversity and soil characteristics.
The three teachers are working with District administration to secure bids and contractors to complete the work within the scope and guidelines of the grant. The work could start as soon as this spring and summer, with the hope of opening the area for student use in the fall once safety issues have been mitigated.
This grant proposal received support and pledges of assistance from a number of local groups and individuals including Pennsylvania Rep. Frank Farry, community member Joseph Franks, the Middletown Township Environmental Advisory, the Bucks County Conservation District and the Neshaminy Creek Watershed Alliance.