Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Norristown's Natural Therapy

Yesterday I was feeling the need to take a vacation. I couldn't afford, in money or time, a long vacation, so I went to Valley Forge Park, which is one of my favorite places on earth. A historian I wanted to hear was speaking at Washington Memorial Chapel last evening, so I'd planned to go anyway, but since it was a nice day, I went over early and spent some time in front of the Chapel, looking out over the pretty rolling hills and meadows. For me, that's all the therapy I need.

Still, you don't have to go even as far as Valley Forge to find serenity in nature. Norristown has some of its own. As I mentioned last week, we have a river. The view of the Schuylkill from Riverfront Park is lovely. We're fortunate enough to have an undeveloped island in the river at that point, so all you see from the park are the woods on the opposite bank. I pray that Norristown is smart enough to never allow a developer to ruin that view. But, besides a great view, along the banks you can occasionally see graceful herons and other long-legged water birds, and on the river itself, 3 or 4 kinds of ducks and geese. On a hectic day, it can be a very calming place.

Our other parks are also decent natural places. Walk along Stony Creek between Sterigere Street and the Zoo. You'll see ducks and water birds there, too. You can hear the sound of the shallow water splashing past the rocks. In spring and early summer, you can hear bull frogs, too.

I worked at Valley Forge one summer, and I remember a tourist asking me about the trees. She'd never seen trees so tall (I think she was from one of the prairie states). We tend to take our trees for granted in this part of Pennsylvania, but take a look at the older trees around Norristown sometime. Some of them are as tall as 6-story buildings. There's a tall oak down the street from me that's bright green in spring, dark green in summer, and a gorgeous red-orange in fall. My favorite winter trees here are the sycamores, with their bright white limbs against a blue or stormy gray sky--they look like big skeletons.

I hope Norristown's equally intelligent about the preservation of our healthy old trees. Sure, we have laws about developers needing to replace trees that they destroy, but they plant short, skinny new ones to replace specimens that are centuries-old, and in many cases, the ordinance is waived altogether. The photo above is of 1202 DeKalb--those beautiful old giants won't be replaced at all when Sarah Peck's overcrowded development is built there.

The Montgomery Hospital site has 3 old growth trees, along with several smaller ones. Together with the hospital building, they keep the streets shaded and cool in summer. Imagine it if Einstein is allowed to level the block. I guarantee Elon will do everything in their power to plant as few trees as possible, and even if they did, the shade produced by new trees can't equal what's there now. With the sun reflecting off the cement and mirrors on the parking garage, medical building and apartment buildings, that block is going to be awfully hot in the summertime.

In their passion to make sure that every space within our borders is developed, I worry that Council forgets that all human beings occasionally have the same need I had yesterday--to get away from the hubbub, to enjoy a pretty piece of nature, maybe to just sit under a shady tree for a half hour and relax. Wouldn't it be nice to have places like that in Norristown, instead of creating yet another reason for people to leave town?


  1. Elena, are you talking about Barbados Island in the Schuykill River where the bridge to it is on Hamilton St. That Island is in West Norriton Township as was Danny's Diner across the DeKalb St bridge.

  2. Thanks. You're right about Barbadoes Is. I always assumed it was part of Norristown since Haws Ave continues onto it. Though I looked up the old Danny's Diner, and that's listed as Bridgeport, at least now. Well, I hope West Norriton never allows developers to build on the island.

  3. On the subject of trees, you should check out this report highlighting the benefits trees provide for storm drainage, the "heat island" effect, property value and other issues around Norristown. It was published in the Times Herald September 19, 2012.