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Remember: Interview with Dr. Abigal Pattishall

Monday, July 27, 2009

Interview with Dr. Abigal Pattishall

Last Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Dr. Abigail Pattishall. Dr. Pattishall is leading the Riparian restoration project at Cedar Beach Parkway. We met next to the Cedar creek, where the restoration will be underway this autumn.

Q: After eighty years without Riparian buffers, Why do we need them now?

Dr. Pattishall: “We know better now, than we did then. We need to do better.” Eighty years ago Allentown was surrounded be farmfields and woodlots. We didn’t really need to worry about flooding, water quality, and wildlife habitat. Things have changed.

Q: Do you have any opinion of the playground project on the other side of Cedar Beach Parkway?

Dr. Pattishall: “No. Not really, my focus is here."

Q: Do you live in Allentown?

Dr. Pattishall: “I have, but don’t currently.. I have been in the Lehigh Valley most of my life. Some of my fondest memories are of running in the Parkway and watching the bats at Bogart’s Bridge.”

Q: How would you respond to people who believe that this project is changing the fundamental nature of our parks, and not necessarily for the better?

Dr. Pattishall: “This will change the parks, and definitely for the better. People who live here are lucky to have this extensive park system with so many waterways. Developing these buffers and no mow zones are going to help clean up the streams and increase wildlife habitat. We are not trying to destroy the parks. These are small changes to protect the waterway and provide some habitat. Imagine how cool it would be for a kid from center city to see an American Kestrel or a Kingfisher fly through here.

Q: What about the storm water the city pipes into the streams?

Dr. Pattishall: “Stormwater in general is huge problem. When possible storm water should be kept at the point where it originated. In a city setting, where we have so much impervious surface, this isn’t always possible. Much of the City’s stormwater therefore gets discharged into the creeks. Riparian buffers help mitigate the adverse effects of stormwater discharges by stabilizing streambanks and decreasing erosion, sedimentation and turbidity.

Q: Will this project be at all like the project at Trexler Park?

Dr. Pattishall: “They are definitely two different projects but the riparian buffer at Trexler Park shows that people are happy with riparian restoration. People want to reconnect with nature. Why would people want to go to a park with no trees or wildlife?

Q: Will this project bring more snakes to Cedar Beach?

Dr. Pattishall: “This project will enhance the riparian habitat at Cedar Beach. Snakes play important roles in streamside ecosystems. The Northern watersnake, for example, does us a great service by scavenging on dead trout, including the heads, tails and entrails many fishermen discard along the banks.”

“Worrying about dangerous snakes in the Allentown parks is irrational. Even if there were venomous snakes in the Allentown Parks (which there are not and will not be), in my experience, all snakes (big venomous rattlesnakes and tiny harmless garter snakes alike) are afraid of people and try to avoid them. If you do see a snake, treat it with respect just like any other animal: watch it, appreciate it, maybe take a picture, and let it go about its day.”

Q: How will this project affect the flooding situation at Cedar Beach?

Dr. Pattishall: “ It should help considerably. With a substantial root system stabilizing the stream banks, the storm events will not be as damaging. Over time, as trees and shrubs age, die, and fall into the stream, the stream will begin to meander more and the velocity of the water will slow.

Q: How long will it take to see these changes?

Dr. Pattishall: “This area has the ability to revert to a natural system so quickly that you won’t remember standing here looking at this muddy and eroded stream bank.”

Q: With no-mow zones, will people still be able to see the creek? The grasses are very high at Trexler.

Dr. Pattishall: “ There will be mowed access points to the creek. There will still be mowed expanses to play Frisbee and picnic in. The no-mow areas will be actually be cut once or twice a year to make sure they don’t become overgrown. At most, they should be waist high.”

Q: Is there a blanket plan for all the no-mow zones in the parks?

Dr. Pattishall: “ We visited each park and met with the park staff to decide on where no-mow areas would be most appropriate. Each park will have a unique habitat restoration plan.”

Q: How will you deal with the knotweed at Trout Creek Parkway?

Dr. Pattishall: “Invasive-exotic plants are so tough to deal with. The key is to eradicate invasives when they first appear because a little stand can quickly become unmanageable. At Trout Creek Parkway I recommend trying to contain it and stop it from spreading further. Unfortunately makes up the majority of the streamside vegetation and is really the only thing stabilizing the streambanks there.
Speaking of Trout Creek though, I would like to see a huge effort to restore and revitalize Allentown’s inner city parks, like Trout Creek Parkway and Jordan Park. City kids, and youth in general are increasingly out of touch with the environment and have lost their sense amazement with nature.
I’ll be happy if just one inner city kid sees a butterfly for the first time or a raccoon and is fascinated and decides to learn more about nature. As a kid I loved finding bugs and salamanders in my backyard. Its no surprise to anyone who knew me as a kid that I grew up to be a biologist.”

Q: How would you respond to the people that are up in arms about this project in Cedar Beach?

Dr.Pattishall: “I am very happy that people care so much about their community. I hope everyone will realize that clean water and wildlife habitat are critical components to the quality of life in Allentown. Environmental restoration is the last thing anyone should be up in arms about.”

Abigail received her Ph.D. in integrative biology from Lehigh University. She has been working on Pennsylvania streams for the past ten years. Her area of expertise concerns how urbanization affects wildlife, specifically snakes. She has published several papers in scientific journals and has presented her work at numerous international meetings. She is currently the Director of the Rivers Conservation Department at Wildlands Conservancy.



Blogger michael molovinsky said...

andrew, let me compliment you on the questions asked, but let me question her replies. she says the impervious additions such as the walkways, playground etc., are not her focus, yet they negate much of the purpose of the riparian buffer. although they may help reduce flooding from the stream, conversely the same growth would slow the streams absorbion of the flooded grass area's during storms, complicated by the addtional storm sewer drainage. i know many people who advocate the buffers, but lets not fool ourselves; the historical park experience in allentown has been interacting with the creeks, not seeing and appreciating a twenty foot wide, 8 foot high barrier. i believe that is what separates a park from wildlands. the juxaposition of conservation and amusement venues is just absurd. weitzel justifies the toys with the wildland conservancy, and the conservancy justifies the toys by being able (and paid?) to install the riparian zones, all at the expense of our beloved park sytem. shame on them.

July 27, 2009 at 8:08 PM  
Blogger Katie Bee said...

but the buffers aren't going to be 8 feet high, they're going to be about waist high...

July 28, 2009 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger LVCI said...

Riparian buffers.. If we are changing anything at least this will not be man made plastic & wooden toys. So I have no major objections.

However it is a 'flood plain' and forever it was this way and remains so after this project. This will not change that. Maybe it will help with the water runoff somewhat. But there still is the direct empting of storm drains directly into the creek that these will not be able to overcome.

Like I said I'm not against this, but other then erosion prevention little else other then perhaps saving a couple bucks on mowing and maintaining the creek. There are more positives then negatives.

So why not.

July 28, 2009 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger michael molovinsky said...

katie bee, who will keep them cut at waist height?at trexler park, where the original plantings have been overgrown by native plants,an inevitable process, they're about 15 ft.high.

July 28, 2009 at 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a great interview, thanks.

July 28, 2009 at 3:32 PM  

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