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Remember: Save Our Parks: Lehigh Parkway

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Save Our Parks: Lehigh Parkway

Sometimes, you really do not see the forest for the trees. In the Parkway, you don’t see the stream because of them. When one enters the Lehigh Parkway, they have made an intentional and deliberate slip from the urban setting of Allentown into the realm of nature. The Parkway is legitimately majestic and instantaneously impressive and awe inspiring. It is a wonder what awe can do. In the case of the Lehigh Parkway, it has blinded me to the real circumstances going on.

For as long as I have written Remember, I have ascribed the maintenance, setting, and feel of the Parkway as the ideal here in Allentown. In doing so, I have unfortunately allowed myself to write while seemingly asleep. The Parkway I wrote about turns out in reality to be only a place in dreams. It is certainly not the ideal park. It isn’t even close to it.

I have contended numerous times that people in Allentown ignore the problems in Trout Creek Parkway and Jordan Park while fighting against the construction projects at Cedar Beach. The environmental problems in those two parks are serious and need real fixing. As it turns out, upon closer inspection, I can now include the Lehigh Parkway in the same category. (and Canal Park, and South Mountain and, well, you get the idea…)

Let me begin discussing the issues at the Lehigh Parkway by stating that the current buffer rating the main stretch of stream in the park has earned is a 2 out of a possible 10. Nearly every tree is compromised alongside the Little Lehigh and the creek bank itself is eroded into cliff like structures that bear only the signs of a compromised ecosystem.

Those pictures demonstrate the scenes not usually associated with the Lehigh Parkway. Trees on creek banks destined only for death. It is a mess folks, and I have just scratched the surface. Take a look at the picture below, it shows a hollowed out dead willow tree that was planted at the same time as the others alongside the creek farther downstream. The difference here is that, this tree was not hydroponic and certainly couldn’t be planted in mid air above water. The bank on which this tree once lived has long been washed away as sediment.

Why hasn’t the thin patch of grass here on this side of the creek been turned into a proper riparian buffer? The DCNR guidelines say it should. With access points mowed and maintained for fly fishermen, this should have been done years ago.

In 1998 a study of our watershed was commissioned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The study was done by The Cadmus Group and the findings of the twelve year old document are hard to believe when applied to the current circumstances in our park system. According to this study, nearly every waterway in our parks is comprised. All of our creeks need immediate attention. Remember, this is twelve years ago. The study concluded that the city of Allentown needs to begin dramatically reducing the sediment load of our streams. They offered the following nine strategies to help achieve that goal:
“1. Fit the activity to the soil, climate and terrain.
2. Minimize the area and duration of soil disturbance.
3. Protect denuded soils.
4. Maximize vegetative cover.
5. Maximize infiltration.
6. Manage slopes to prevent flow concentration.
7. Prepare drainage ways to handle concentrated flows.
8. Trap sediment before it leaves site.
9. Protect and preserve vegetation in natural riparian buffers.”

What do you imagine has been the result of another negligent decade of poor environmental practice? More money will be required to fix the problem, and the problem itself is far worse now. A trusted source on the Parkway has informed me that in the last ten years the creek has widened at least three feet. The water is shallower, warmer, with less biomass and more turbidity.

Walking across the pedestrian bridge, I was surprised to see running water on the path considering it had not rained in days. As it would turn out, a natural spring, once filled in during the administration of Mayor Heydt and reemerged and in turn been dug back out and fenced in with orange construction fencing. Electrical supplies for Lights in the Parkway are perilously close to the standing water.

This entire area of the Parkway should be wetlands, not open space. A perfectly healthy tree fell here a few days back for no reason other than poor soil conditions. The closer I looked at the Parkway, the more ridiculous the state of the ecosystem began to appear.

The path on the way back towards Robin Hood is an abomination. It is literally hanging above the creek on one side and exposed completely to eroded hillside on the other. Where it has fallen in to the creek, large amounts of gravel and rock have been poured in as some sort of engineering solution from environmental hell. This path should not exist. The hillside needs to be restored. This entire side of the Parkway is one heavy rain event away from a mudslide that none of us will soon forget.

Here, in another low lying swath of open grass, a perfect setting for a naturally occurring wetland goes to waste.

A storm water drainage pipe offers an excellent opportunity for a rain garden. None present.

With every glance, another problem became glaringly apparent. Trout Creek Parkway and Jordan Park are not alone in disgrace readers. Our grandest park is on the edge of environmental ruin and if something is not done soon, the cost of future calamity will be astronomical. The current issues in the park become all the more dire when new wells seem certain to be arriving in Macungie and agricultural/ upstream run off only increases.

We have been warned as early as 1998 and probably earlier. Nothing has been done. The fledgling no mow zones growing in places down there are band-aids on bullet wounds. Currently, as our parks lie in these unforgivable states, ongoing construction is happening at Cedar Beach that will (and is) leading only to further environmental degradation. It is time to wake up folks. I sure did yesterday as I walked around the Parkway.

The trails plan must be implemented only after the issues are addressed. If I had my way, and the damage had not been inflicted upon Cedar beach, I would like to see all park improvement/construction projects halted until such a time when the environmental issues described in this post were remedied. As it stands, it is my opinion that the glaring environmental issues in every single park in the city of Allentown be attended to and fixed before any further park or trail construction anywhere within city limits. These environmental restoration projects need to be conducted by specialists in creek bank restoration, soil science, environmental toxicology, freshwater ecology, and riparian buffer science. The time for action is now. The best possible solution offered by current leading research needs to be implemented yesterday.

This situation is bad. These pictures prove it. Twelve years of studies prove it. These conditions should not exist. All of us need to do something to make these changes happen. I am afraid that if we fail to achieve such a goal, even our Parkway will become a green desert and we will lose the greatest thing our city offers us: our park system.

I’m awake readers. Shake the sleep out of your eyes and join me.

Save the parks.

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Blogger michael molovinsky said...

andrew, you will find the new crusade a thankless, twisted web. for instance, while the conservancy gets paid to create a buffer downstream, they accept contributions and assistance from the bottling industry, for which the upstream wells are being dug.

March 20, 2010 at 5:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that lights in the parkway has been a great thing for Allentown, I would like to see them cut down some more trees and do a " lights in canal park" this year. Maybe they can add some u.f.o's and the flying Elvi to the display!

March 20, 2010 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger michael molovinsky said...

an interesting notation; the paths which abut the stream, such as the one from robin hood parking lot to the pedestrian bridge, and the continuation from the stepped stone structure toward regency tower, were added. they were not built by the wpa, nor did they exist even up to 1970.

March 20, 2010 at 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sweet dreams of youth. I totally agree with you, but Allentown has no money and few park workers. Why has the work stopped in the Rose Garden? Thank you for taking the time to keep us informed about the different situations.

March 20, 2010 at 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so true.
We need more of this mentality. Mowed grass certainly has a place, but it should never be the default.

Otherwise we'll end up with more of the same--green deserts.

I'm curious, do natural wetlands, wooded areas, and wild places actually require more maintenance than the alternative? It seems to me that we'd be saving a lot not having to mow all of that grass.

March 21, 2010 at 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mow to the edge! Pave the paths !! Go Allentown!!!

March 22, 2010 at 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Walking across the pedestrian bridge, I was surprised to see running water on the path considering it had not rained in days. As it would turn out, a natural spring, once filled in during the administration of Mayor Heydt and reemerged and in turn been dug back out and fenced in with orange construction fencing. Electrical supplies for Lights in the Parkway are perilously close to the standing water.

Andrew, That orange stuff and the hole by the tree and all the water
and the ugliness of the electric outlet and all this junk
has been this way 2-3 years!!!Thanks for pointing it out.

March 23, 2010 at 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your photo with this caption "Here, in another low lying swath of open grass, a perfect setting for a naturally occurring wetland goes to waste."
exposes the barren land where once a grassy meadow stood destroyed by the constant use as a shortcut by city trucks.
Perhaps you would consider writing about this issue in the future?

March 23, 2010 at 4:25 PM  

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