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Remember: Save Our Parks: The Long History of Allentown and Environmental Negligence

Monday, March 22, 2010

Save Our Parks: The Long History of Allentown and Environmental Negligence

On Saturday I posted a piece referencing what turns out to be legitimately terrible conditions in the exalted Lehigh Parkway.   As it turns out, a park so often lauded as the standard of standards in the grandest city park system in the state of Pennsylvania is a complete mess.
During my visit and a subsequent further exploration on Sunday, I had the chance to speak with an elderly fisherman as well as a man named Ted who told me stories of the Parkway during the height of hippiedom.  Both of these men lamented the current conditions that the Parkway finds itself in.  The fly-fisherman said he had been coming there for decades.  He watches the banks of the creek erode further by the season, says unless they release, “ There aren’t much fish to catch in here anymore.” 
So, why now?  Why after eighty years should the parks department suddenly up and change the maintenance strategy they have successfully employed since the inception of the park system?  Are the parks going to suddenly just up and disappear into ruin?
To address these frequently asked questions, let me first say that the proof as always is usually found in the pudding.  The pictures accompanying this post were taken yesterday afternoon.  Each picture shows the effect of the long history of environmental negligence in the park system.  The pictures(taken in the Parkway) show eroded banks, dead and dying trees, exposed roots, the effects of soil compaction, etc. etc. etc.

The reason this has become such a prescient issue is due to an increase of runoff over the last few decades from paved suburbs.  The Parkway and most city parks are at low points in the city of Allentown.  The forests and vegetation that once surrounded the city have been replaced by asphalt and development.  In turn, run off (once absorbed into the soil by the now missing vegetation) has increased in our parks during high water events which have also increased for the same reason.

The problems will not resolve themselves. As time goes by, if things continue as they are, the problems will worsen.
These problems were not just recently recognized readers.  On Saturday, I mentioned the existence of an E.P.A commissioned study of Allentown’s waterways that called attention to what were dire circumstances in 1998.  As it turns out, a little research can go a heck of a long way back.  I have found two documents that show a history of scientific ignorance and environmental negligence that surprised and disappointed me. 
The first study, done by the Bureau of Environmental Planning-Department of Environmental Resources – Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is titled “Environmental Concerns in Local Floodplain Management”. The study was published in APRIL 1979!

While I would love to retype all fifty pages of the study on here, in the interest of saving you and me all that time, I will share a  key passage and a picture.

-“Floodplain vegetation can:
-trap sediment from upland surface run-off
-stabilize stream banks thereby retarding soil erosion
-provide fish and wildlife habitat”

The study continues by going into great detail about how to accomplish such feats on a municipal level. So, 1979!?
This study means that the environmental issues in our parks would not currently exist had the guidelines published therein been adhered to 31 years ago.
The existence of such a study also means that every mayoral administration, city council, park director, recreation director and so on has been acting directly against the accepted scientific guidelines established by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for three decades.

Mayor Pawlowski, Parks and Recreation Director Greg Weitzel, and current City Council members did not create these problems, nor are they responsible for increased upstream development.  They are however, as our current officials, the inheritors of the problems and in turn are responsible for the remediation of them.

It is a tough job to take and it is a tough solution to reach.  As of this posting, the guidelines from as long ago as 31 years and as recently as last year by the DCNR are not being met.  Current construction projects and future projects are not designed to meet said goals and in some cases run the risk of perpetuating or furthering the issues in our park system designed to be combated by said guidelines. 

The Mayor, Mr. Weitzel and City Council must see these decade old standards met, as soon as possible.  To do otherwise would continue the long history of environmental negligence in the city of Allentown and in turn would put our park system in danger of changes that it will never recover from.

Check back tomorrow for the results of the second study I discovered, this time, from 1981 and a look at the conditions of the waterway in Fountain Park.  The tip of the iceberg is getting a little bigger, so are the issues.

Save the Parks. 

*All photographs taken by Bryan Kleiner
Related Posts:

Save our Parks: Lehigh Parkway
Cedar Beach Construction 2010: Part One



Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW! What an eye opener.

March 22, 2010 at 10:01 AM  
Blogger Katie Bee said...

In order to follow these guidelines, what do you suggest? Or, rather, what does the study suggest? Is it really as simple as using permeable paving materials, creating a no-mow zone and planting riparian buffers?

March 22, 2010 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Andrew Kleiner said...

Yes it is Katie but that is just the beginning. I'll be posting on what happens next tomorrow and what such implementations can accomplish.

March 22, 2010 at 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Sue said...

Katie Bee ------ that, and a couple of tens of millions of dollars on regional stormwater planning and infrastructure. (I think ReNew L.V. is talking about the need for this.) Where is Allentown and Lehigh County on this? Good question. Oh, and then there would be a few million for streambank restoration and the removal of low-head damns. There are federal fund out there to support infrastructure improvements of this sort.......but first you need regional planning and collaboration. And some political leadership. Hell, let's pave some trails instead. Thats way easier. Let the Little Lehigh turn into a mud run. Who cares anyway?

March 22, 2010 at 12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm all for the trails ---- make mine unpaved please ----AFTER ALL THESE OTHER ISSUES ARE ADDRESSED! " Why connect broken parks?"

March 22, 2010 at 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Among your photos we believe is one of a row of trees leading to the Police Academy. Within the past few weeks these trees have had their trunks, roots, and the earth beneath covered with huge boulders, tons of stone and gravel
in what we perceive has been an attempt to widen the roadway at this particular site. One must ask how any tree can survive with huge boulders and stone and gravel covering its bark, tree trunks and roots. Lehigh Parkway's posted speed limit is
20 MPH. Even if two police officers driving from different directions came upon each other, this 20 MPH speed would allow each driver to slow down or stop without incident. This same methodology of expanding a road's width has been completed further up on the right hand side of the bridle path past the Academy going towards the city's credit union. Can trees live when they are treated like this! Andrew, we welcome your thoughts.

March 23, 2010 at 8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those tree will die. It will take several years, but they will die. When they die, without their roots, those banks will be even more unstable. End of story.

March 23, 2010 at 3:38 PM  

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