Exploring the Trail
Click on the links below to get to information about volunteering on the Trail (including a schedule of work activities planned), descriptions of stewardship goals, lists of plants and animals you might see on the Trail, videos with instructions on invasive plant control, and other resources. Thanks for visiting!
What does stewardship on the Trail mean?
Stewardship of green spaces like those adjacent to the paths means maximizing what are called ecosystem services. This includes increasing the number and diversity of plants found there. More plant material means more carbon sequestered from the atmosphere, which is good for the planet. More biodiversity (different compatible species) contributes to the ability to tie up more carbon. Biodiversity also contributes to providing food for more diverse animals. This leads to more stability, which means that the ecosystem can better resist the challenges of things like excess nitrogen (can come from runoff from lawns and other spaces), and spread of weed seeds (which can also enter in stormwater runoff).
Much of the green space next to the trail has suffered lots of environmental abuse for a century or more. This includes repeated use of herbicide to keep the rail corridor open, dumping of all kinds of construction fill containing concrete, asphalt, etc., and multiple rounds of clearing land of vegetation without replanting appropriate plants. Some people think the best thing we could do from a stewardship perspective is to simply leave the land alone, and there are good arguments for this philosophy. Eventually, natural succession processes will result in more diverse plants and animals along the trail. Arguments against this philosophy include that human activities are continuing to interfere with natural processes on the trail--such as the influx of nitrogen, excess stormwater, constant removal of trees and other plants to keep powerlines clear, continued incursion of weed seeds, etc. So our philosophy is to first do no harm whenever possible, and secondly act judiciously to try to promote the succession processes.
For us, rule number one is No Bare Soil. When all plants are removed from an area, this resets the successional clock and the whole healing process starts all over again. Any plant (even the worst invasive species) is better than no plants at all. All invasive species remove excess carbon from the atmosphere, and many of them provide other services such as preventing erosion, producing nectar and pollen, and providing shelter for animals. Invasive plants are removed only when they can immediately be replaced by other more desirable plants. Another corollary of No Bare Soil means leaving dead leaves and stems in place. Removing these creates a disturbance that promotes growth of new weeds. Dead leaves and stems also provide homes for overwintering insects. Studies have shown that leaving the dead plant parts also promotes development of better soil. Adding outside materials like bark mulch actually disrupt the soil microbes. It's better to "leave the leaves" and promote soil microbes that are compatible with the plants already there.
In recent years plant scientists and ecologists have come to recognize that the neglected lands like the area along the Cynwyd Heritage Trail are tremendously valuable resources. These are our local equivalents of wilderness. Good stewardship of these lands means trying to promote natural processes like succession and development of food webs. It does not mean trying to recreate the plant and animal communities that were here before human activities began; this is not possible. These are relatively recent ideas and one of the most important activities is promoting awareness among people who live near these areas about just how special the lands are. It is truly a privilege to live near a creek with fish, frogs and ducks, and to be able to walk under trees where birds like thrushes, owls, warblers and vireos make their nests and sing their mating songs. These animals living high on the food chain are absolutely dependent on plants, insects, worms and other components of the ecosystem. A big part of stewardship is simply appreciating the value of what is being stewarded.
We invite neighbors and other interested trail supporters to join the FOCHT Stewardship Committee as we learn about our own wilderness area by observing it and by adapting what others have learned about other urban wildernesses to our own situation. We invite you to help us nudge along the succession processes so that this green space can support more life and contribute more ecosystem services. We hope the pages in this website will inspire to you get involved and that they will enhance your enjoyment of the Trail.