When people think of Philadelphia, cobblestone streets, row homes, and cheese steaks are some of the first things that come to mind. Others may think of The Constitution Center, The Liberty Bell, or The University of Pennsylvania. Depending on whom you ask, you will hear a variety of opinions regarding the city we live in. On one hand, you may discover that people think of Philadelphia as a place of culture, education, history, and food. In another instance, someone might describe The City of Brotherly Love as a place of crime, bitter sports fans, filthy streets, and congested neighborhoods.
What typically goes neglected is the beauty of Fairmount Park. Even as Philadelphians, how many of us actually stop to think about the fact that we have a place where we can go hiking, take a bike ride, or have a picnic with- out the sound of car horns and the sight of traffic? In a city where we are constantly surrounded by bricks, it is of no surprise that we imprison our minds in the urban atmosphere that rules our lives.
Admittedly, I rarely thought about a serene place where I could escape and appreciate nature in the city of Philadelphia. Thankfully, my service-learning project for Environmental Conservation opened my eyes. When I first offered my services to the Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers, I really did not know what to expect.
Upon my arrival at Fairmount Park, I was immediately greeted by a group of boy-scouts who were taking a hike. Following a brief discussion with the scouts and their fathers, I immediately gathered a root puller, a shovel, and a pair of clippers to help re- move an invasive species from the park. As it was explained, Aralia elata (also known as the Devil’s Walking Stick) threatens the native plants by spreading rapidly throughout the area. Unfortunately, the plant has no natural predators and basically annihilates the diversity of plants in certain sections of Fairmount Park.
Surprisingly, the roots of these plants stretched along a large portion of the ground. Some of them took approximately fifteen to twenty minutes for removal. After digging, cutting, and pulling on the roots and razor sharp branches, we actually managed to remove a large portion of the Devil’s Walking Stick. This effectively cleared a path for the volunteers to plant native species in the area in order to re- store some diversity in the area.
When I returned to the land of paved roads, brick buildings, and automobiles, I immediately missed the silence of the park. It was at that very moment when I realized the importance of my service-learning project. We need to protect our forests in order to preserve our own sanity. After all, too much of one thing is never beneficial. Just as we need different types of places, people, and activities in our lives to keep us happy, forests need different types of species in order to stay diverse so they can support the organisms that depend on them for survival.
At the end of the day, most living things depend on each other. Being that we humans are the most dependent of all, it is only right that we protect and preserve our parks. Even if it’s for a selfish reason, such as having a place to take a break from the city, it still serves a purpose and has a positive effect at the end of the day. –An Op-Ed Piece By John Martin