Wagner Free Institute Land Management Class Questions part Two: Trails, Golf courses and Dog questions

As part of our Land Management Class we were asked about formulating questions about the topic. These Questions were to be informally presented to scientists and experts on the subject.  This was a unique and rare opportunity to lay out as much as possible to this wonderfully assembled group of knowledgable folks and we worked very hard to do just that, assembling a whole host of questions and on-the-ground scenarios for our audience. We were also asked to come up with an experiment that could help in answering questions which we also created.


Would it be a good idea to create a survey of park users, citywide using scientifically accepted techniques of random data collection, analyses etc to get an overall picture of what Philadelphians want to have in their parks?

The concept of Park frontage was presented clearly in our class and the idea that what can be viewed from the public sphere outside, looking into the parks plays a greater role in the public perception of the parks in general and how we manage these “intersections” has a specific importance in the outcome of management practices.

This being said, Should the concept of a trail system that rings the perimeter of Philadelphia’s parks be examined more closely and looked at on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, citywide?

Would it be beneficial to create a circuitous trail system around the perimeters of the parks Pennypack , Wissihickon , East/West Park, that was manicured and landscaped, using transitional forest edge localized plants, Smaller trees, signage that served as a gateway trail system, educational outlet and even with benches and picnic areas) Would it be a good idea to propose this trail network be just enough into the parks for homeowners to feel comfortable and as close as possible to the edges to be effective without encroaching upon the home-dwellers adjacent to the park? The circuitous trail system brings up a whole host of questions relating to park edge development and enhancement and has the potential to effect hundreds of acres of park land throughout the city.


Also, would it be effective to actively recruit communities, homeowners, renters and all of the people living directly adjacent to the park to take an active stewardship role in small, defined areas of the edges of the park, just outside their homes? Could this strengthen the edges of the parks city-wide, by creating a multitude of small, permitted groups managing the areas just outside their houses?

How hard would it be to recruit these groups and how much would that cost? Could classes such as this one be funded and created and taught citywide to guide this effort? Could more staff be hired by Parks and rec to oversee these many groups?

What would be the political environment of multiple groups, large and small, operating within one Park? What would the initial cost of recruiting and enabling more permitted groups and what would be the long term cost savings in terms of free labor/ public good not to mention the benefit that other species would have such as core forest songbirds, rare and endangered plants etc have on such a production?


Would a wide variety of trail types maintained as such, be a valuable asset to the parks, where some trails are wide and well-marked and others are like mountain trails, narrow, sometimes steep and marked by flashes of paint on trees?


In the Haddington woods, would it be beneficial to have a wide, well marked and evenly bedded trail to lead to the most prominent points, such as Cobbs Creek, and perhaps the Pond area? Could the Parking lot for the Bocce club include public parking like Kitchen’s Lane in the Wissahickon? Would solid signage, graffiti resistant and embedded in concrete at the entrances and at critical junctures within the park improve the overall comfort level and ultimately the usage of the park by the community and the public at large?

In areas where the trails run through sensitive ecological areas, such as ones with rare or endangered plants, planted areas, young and sensitive trees, habitats of ground nesting birds, such as oven birds ( which are reported in Morris Park) would it make sense to have low fencing or some diversion to prevent dogs let off of their leashes or people from entering?

What are the effects of trampling from off-leash dogs in Fairmount Park as a whole? What are the effects of off-leash dogs generally, from a point of view of noted and documented disturbances and anguish caused, both to people, dog owners and leashed dogs?

Is there data on dog bites both to people and dogs, police reports and anecdotal evidence ( There was a thread online after an article in the papers about a month ago that addressed this topic)

What could be done to educate the public about obeying the laws, what is the best way to approach this problem and how much would it cost?

In Morris Park , we have witnessed much trampling by off leash dogs of native plants, how would we best address this issue in the most sensitive and informative manner?

How do off-leash dogs effect the habitats of ground-nesting birds, such as oven birds? What is the most effective way to present our concerns to the park –using general public?

Would signage on trails about ground-nesting birds help inform and guide dog owners to follow the existing laws and leash their dogs in these sensitive areas?

Considering the high volume of dog owners and their desire to let their dogs off leash in the existing forests, would it make sense to provide fenced in dog parks across the city and then fully enforce the existing laws to protect other species from trampling and extirpation, paralleling the need for open areas for dogs to run free, close by to dog owners residences? How would this be paid for? Perhaps a dog owners tax levied by the city on mandatorily registered dogs? A dog tax to regulate and manage dogs, and used to provide the necessary habitat for Philadelphia’s lovable canine pets? How could this be studied, explained and looked at seriously by the legislators, citizens and implemented realistically?

The other issue regarding trails and dogs, is the issue of dog-less trails. Is this realistic? Something to ponder? Sort of like bike and horseless trails? How about dog friendly trails, full of the ameneties that make dogs and their owners happy, kiosks with bags and waste containers, leading up to the dog parks perhaps.

As far as dog waste is concerned, how much would it cost to have an effective educational campaign to educate the public about the bacteria in dog waste and how it can effect the water ways that we drink from? Like the water cycle diagram, a clear depiction of where our water comes from and what is going into the water?

( not to mention how unfortunate it is to step on dog waste while trying to enjoy the park, and how unsightly it is to see and horrifying it is to have it end up in your house).


Trails in general can be subjects of intense discussion and there is much that goes into their creation, maintenance and dissolution. There needs to be much more focus on where trails are best suited and if they have a lifespan at all. Does a trail have real lifespan? With the erosion issues they can cause, perhaps trails could be closed and moved on a some sort of timeline- a twenty year trail, a 10 year trail, 50 year trail, etc. The new trail would be opened in a best practice location, and the plants could be moved to the location of the older, worn out trail. We have successfully implemented this practice in Morris Park, so much so that it is not noticeable. Should the location of trails be studied in Fairmount Park so there is a more agreed-upon consensus of trail maintenance?

Is soil compaction/erosion a problem for closed trails and should these trails be tilled and aerated and possibly re-seeded with locally collected seeds?

When new trails are constructed, would it make sense to remove as much of the localized plant material as possible and relocate them to the nearby trails being closed? (We performed this task with Mayapples that were torn out of the new trails and re-planted them with 100% success rate of transplanting. )


Should the trails in the Haddington Woods be studied and evaluated? Should some of them be moved, closed, re-assigned, or new ones opened to best present the park to the public? How could the new trails be treated to best prevent erosion and even prolong the life of the trail and reduce maintenance? In general, should mountain bike trails be regulated and monitored? Are they effective public use and are beneficial? Should they be looked at for increasing Park usage in Haddington woods?

What kind of trail would increase the publics usage and enjoyment of Haddington Woods? Trails with signage? Evenly graded? Easily accessed? A trail map in signage that showed circular routes? Describing the environments viewed? Would a trail that had access to nearby major hubs of activity such as 69th street or Millbourne be beneficial to the park and the community? How much would it cost for Haddington woods to be connected to 69th street and Millbourne and could a community group(s) be assembled to keep an eye on this entrance (s) and would this be an asset to the populace?

It appears that part of the problem of appropriate public usage of Haddington Woods Park is that more than half of the park is blocked by the 69th street Septa Facilities along with Cobbs Creek Itself, creating a double border. In one sense this creates a sense of wilderness that has its own benefits, on the other, it is a border that separates communities from the nearest parkland/forest. What can be realistically done to address this issue? Would adjacent political entities, such as Upper Darby be willing to partner with Philadelphia, and Septa to create a bridge into the Haddington Woods, all with the backing of Community groups and dedicated volunteers ready to make this ‘back end’ of this Philadelphia park feel safe, used, and doted over. How much would that cost?

Also from a trail and access perspective, isn’t the golf course very problematic? Doesn’t it seem like the golf course itself is like a giant wall that divides the Haddington Woods from the rest of the world? Why is it that the Haddington woods seems to have only a very few trail heads, one closest to 63rd and Market and the other at the Bocce Club. Just two trail heads for the size of this park is unacceptable considering the size of the population around it. Is there something that can be done to open up this park for more people? Is the fact that it is so cut off and inaccessible actually an asset to the park’s condition, hosting a high quality forest?

Would it be beneficial to have a trail system that directly links Morris Park, and Overbrook Park via the golf course to the Haddington Woods? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to connect Overbrook and 69th street and adjacent neighborhoods via a park trail, through the golf course without having to worry about golf related issues? What can be done to address this issue? How much of the public good does the golf course serve versus the need for public Parks in West Philadelphia/ Overbrook/ Overbrook Park/ UpperDarby/ Millbourne? Can this be looked at and addressed/reassessed in a manner that can be of the public benefit? How much does the golf course serve the public and can this be evaluated? How much does the golf course serve the environment ( such as erosion, the large expanses of grass, the amount of public land used per person vs the potential as a usable parkland)

How is this use of land justified? Can this be quantified into dollar amounts? Is this golf course paying for itself as a community and environmental asset? Perhaps it is hosting trees that are allowed to grow in a way that is not found dense forests? Is this valuable enough to justify so much land consumed with a lack of public trails and a problematic creek management approach? Are the golf courses an important host to rare and endangered species that we need to know about?( It has been witnessed one situation where the golf course was mowing down the rare Elephantopus carolinianus )Is anyone studying these and should we be aware of it?


What would it take to have a connective trail between Morris Park and Haddington woods, two adjacent neighbors just one mile apart , functioning as if 10-20 miles apart with the lack of connectivity, community connections, and separation barriers, namely the golf course. Could a connector trail along the edges become established?

Could the golf course remain, but altered with meadow and woodland edge habitats built in to the course, along with publicly used trails, sitting and picnic areas or not? Perhaps the golf course is not a suitable use for this land in consideration of the populace adjacent and the associated needs of natural green space and trails? Or is the golf course benefitting the public by serving its needs and providing a suitable habitat for other species as well?


Should this use of land be studied more carefully? If the golf course was not there who would manage these lands and what is their vision for them? Would an abandoned golf course lead to a blighting effect of the surrounding neighborhoods? Could golf course users be persuaded to become better land stewards and promote a beneficial land use for critical areas, such as along Cobbs Creek? Would the idea of corridors of riparian plantings become attractive to the golf course users and newly transformed environmentalists? How much would it cost to convince and educate the golf course users into the environmental and ecological approach to land management?


Wagner Free Institute Land Management Class Questions part one : Deer Population and management in a Morris Park, Philadelphia

As part of our Land Management Class we were asked about formulating questions about the topic. These Questions were to be informally presented to scientists and experts on the subject.  This was a unique and rare opportunity to lay out as much as possible to this wonderfully assembled group of knowledgable folks and we worked very hard to do just that, assembling a whole host of questions and on-the-ground scenarios for our audience. We were also asked to come up with an experiment that could help in answering questions which we also created.

We had the most opportune moment to have assembled the staff of Philadelphia Parks and Recs Forestry division, Botanists from the Philadelphia Botanical Club, as well as a forestry Scientist from Penn State with decades of experience in urban Forestry, as well as knowledgeable staff from Bartrams Gardens, and the Wissahickon restoration Volunteers. This was a wonderful opportunity to present our questions and our research proposal, which could possibly be implemented in the Haddington Woods section of Cobbs Creek Park. We will present to you, our dear readers, our highly informal presentation in one section at a time as a blog post and post the whole work as a page. Enjoy the most informal presentation and please ask questions and comment!  Here it is:

Questions For the Wagner Institute Land Management class

By Sean Solomon and Isabelle Dijols

We will organize our questions into categories and finish our piece with proposals for easily implementable experiments based on connecting the dots of the questions peppered.

Living just one mile north of Haddington woods and having been active stewards of the adjacent Morris Park for 8 years, many of our questions bear relevancy to Morris Park and our observations and work (and lack thereof) there and apply to Haddington woods quite succinctly.

Is there a simple and cost effective way to measure deer populations within standardized scientifically agree-upon quadrangles? Perhaps key plants could be used as signature estimators, such as Jewelweed or Mayapples (based on commonly occurring and frequently browsed)?

Would it make sense for Public entities such as the City of Philadelphia to hire private companies to measure and quantify the deer populations, to assess the damages being done, to create and implement a public awareness campaign that could ultimately lead to legislation that would provide the proper funding to effectively and consistently manage the Deer population that would both serve the well-being of the species and enhance the quality of the natural lands and human health?

What does it take to get good deer data and consistent culling as well as majority public understanding and support for reasonable deer management practices?

What is it really like for deer who are hungry and malnourished in Fairmount park? Is there a way to measure the suffering of the animal? Weight estimates, views of the eyes or other indicators of physical strain (such as ribs showing, or even analysis of scat or even dna taken from browsed plants) ? Hours spent eating at specific times of the day and night? How is animal suffering quantified and described in Scientific literature and can this be easily translated into digesteble media by the general public?

Does the U.S. Center For Disease Control monitor Lime-disease clusters and should the public be aware of them?

Is there a way to measure the damage done to an ecosystem, on a quadrant level, taking in as much data as possible about the plants, animals and insects by the overpopulation of deer? How about historical data collected about a specific site or measurable area? Are there species documented to have been extirpated by deer browsing or just extirpated without knowledge of the reasons?

What was the deer population like in different known periods dating back as far as possible using every known documentation as clues?

What are the ecological benefits of deer, historically assessed or just conjectural ( perhaps they created a better diversity of herbaceous plants by browsing ones that started becoming invasive, or prevented trees of one species from becoming overwhelming to other trees, for example). Is there a way to asses the ecological benefits of deer ( perhaps visiting and describing sites where deer are considered to be in“equilibrium” with other species)?
On top of that what are the ecological benefits of ticks? (food for Turkeys and other feathered creatures?)

Has the fictionalized Bambi made deer so romanticized in our culture to the point where it is often difficult to discuss deer in an un-charged manner or is there another reason? Could it be related to the fact that there was a time when deer were so over-hunted that they almost became extinct?
The very fact that the deer that did survive the 19th century could be a testament to genetics and evolution that may answer some questions as to why they are so adapted to the modern human arrangement of plants and habitats- Could the deer that survived the 18th and 19th centuries have been the ones that had the genetic make-up to overcome the obstacles placed by human encroachment and this is the very thing that is making up this specific genetic selection to be so successful? ( in different wording) Is there a way to measure that? Perhaps look at genomes of deer through the centuries and compare?

Could we spray something on invasive plants that deer like to get them to eat them over the natives ( Suggested by Susan from Wagner)?

Is there a good way to make this problem go away or managed causing the least suffering to the deer and to the humans who love them?