The first Friends of Roberts Ridge Park (FRRP) “Information Party” was held at the home of Newtown Supervisor John Mack on July 21, 2019. The purpose of the party was to introduce local residents to FRRP’s plan to initially plant 25-30 native shade trees in the park. At the meeting, about 25 people heard from several experts and township officials, including John Mack and fellow Supervisor Dennis Fisher, about FRRP’s plan and how it would benefit residents and the Township.
A Bit of History
It all started when Elen Snyder – a resident of the Windermere development on Lower Dolington Road – read in the Newtown Patch and on the Nextdoor online social group that 6.21 acres of Roberts Ridge Park across the street from her house were going to be converted to a “meadow” as part of Newtown’s Pollution Reduction Plan (read “Newtown Township’s Pollution Reduction Plan: How Will It Impact Our Parks?’; http://bit.ly/NTprpArticle). Elen was concerned and decided to speak out against the plan – at least the part of the plan that involved her beloved local park – at a meeting of the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) on May 8, 2019 (see the video: http://bit.ly/PRPcommentsVideo).
At the BOS meeting, Elen and several other local residents objected to the conversion of a well-used area of the park into a meadow for several reasons, but mostly because it would make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for residents to walk their dogs, fly their kites, ride their sleds, relax, and practice soccer in the park as they have often done.
Also commenting at that BOS meeting was Joyce Ely, the president of the Neshaminy Creek Watershed Association (NCWA), a non-profit group that has long advocated for the planting of more trees. Her public and written comments to the BOS spoke about the importance of trees in preventing the contamination of the Township’s watersheds by pollutants such as sediment and agricultural runoff. Prevention of such pollution is the goal of the Pollution Reduction Plan, which Newtown was required to develop and submit to the PA Department of Environmental Protection as part of its application for an MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) permit. Without the plan and permit, the Township would not be legally allowed to discharge stormwater into local streams and rivers.
A Two-Phase Plan
FRRP has a two-phase plan: (1) The group will raise private money by donations from neighbors and friends to purchase native trees and supplies; and (2) the group will also work with the NCWA and Newtown Township to apply for a 2020 grant to provide additional trees. The first phase is called the “Family Plan” because anyone making a $70 donation can dedicate a tree – perhaps in memory of a family member – and a plaque will mark the tree as donated by the family. Elen has already received pledges just 10 short of her goal.
An important discussion point at the meeting was made by Joyce Ely who emphasized that it is important to plant only native species as part of the plan. She summarized the reasons why this is important: (1) native trees are better adapted to the local environment and have a better chance of surviving, and (2) local trees and other plants support the types of insects that birds rely upon to survive. And, of course, native plants help prevent pollution of streams by reducing the volume of stormwater and reaching local streams, rivers, and lakes.
Jan Filios – a member of the Newtown Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) – also noted that native grasses have deeper roots than overgrown turf grass, which is how Newtown plans to convert areas of the park into a “meadow.” Longer roots help open up the soil for water filtration and eventually replenishes our aquifers instead of overtaxing our stormwater system.
Any plan that involves Newtown’s parks must be approved initially by the Department of Parks and Recreation and ultimately by the Newtown BOS with input from the Township Manager. George Skladany, a member of the Newtown EAC, laid out a possible task list and schedule for obtaining Township approval that involved the following steps for representatives of the Friends of Roberts Ridge Park to take:
- Meet with the Director of Parks & Recreation to present their plan and then jointly prepare a formal presentation to the Parks & Recreation Committee,
- present the unified plan to the Parks & Recreation Committee for approval, along with the Parks & Recreation Committee
- participate in a BOS Work Session meeting to answer any questions and finalize details of the project, and along with the Parks & Recreation Committee,
- present the approved unified plan to BOS for approval at a regular monthly public meeting for a vote on the plan.