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Fall News from Friends of West Mill Creek Park

Happy 10th Birthday Friends of WMC Park!

Goldenrod in bloom in new parking lot gardens

The Friends of West Mill Creek Park was founded in October 2013 with the twin mission of safeguarding and improving West Mill Creek’s use as a dog park, and working to improve the park as habitat for the wildlife that shares the park with us.  Over the past ten years we have worked to enhance the beauty and biodiversity of the park by planting many hundreds of trees, shrubs, and perennials, and worked to combat invasive plants.  We have also acted as liaison with the Township for problems identified by our members, and have researched and posted dog-related educational materials on our website with the goal of promoting a safe, happy experience for park users.  We thank all our members for their encouragement, support, constructive criticism and great suggestions over the years. We also extend heartfelt thanks to Lower Merion Township – especially Donna Heller, Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, and Dave DeAngelis, Supervisor of the Parks division.  For many years, they supported us with unfailing responsiveness, help, a can-do attitude, and good cheer.  They and the Parks crew members have always been a delight to work with. 

Shout-Out to the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist Program

Many of you have noted the progress of the beautiful garden beds that were planted this year as part of our newly redesigned parking lot.  The design for these beds, plus many hours of maintenance work, were provided to our Park gratis as part of Pennsylvania’s successful Master Naturalist program.  This program provides advanced ecological training to Pennsylvania residents with the requirement that those trained will provide 20 hours of pro bono ecological services to not-for-profit entities like us.  We are lucky to have Michelle Detwiler, a locally well-known native plant expert and landscape designer, as our Master Naturalist.  She has worked with us for the past several years to continue our mission to improve our Park’s beauty and ecological effectiveness.  We are so grateful.  Thank you, Michelle!

Fall Planting Day–2023

We held our annual Fall planting day on Wednesday, October 25.  This year our focus was additional planting for the new garden beds around the recently reconfigured parking lot. 

New Parking Lot Garden in October 2023

With the help of the hardworking Lower Merion Parks Department crew (which did all the heavy planting work), we added 123 native perennials and shrubs to those beds this Fall.  These included the beautiful yellow-flowered shrub St. John’s Wort, asters, grasses, and golden groundsel. The crew also dug out a large stand of invasive mugwort in the main park area, and mulched with wood chips to help slow up any regrowth.  In addition, they planted four trees (two black gum and two river birch) in the main park area. 

While the Township crew worked, Friends of West Mill Creek Park volunteers Michelle Detwiler, Karen O’Neil, Ellen Reese, and Ellen Briggs weeded the parking lot beds that were planted last Spring. 

Thanks to all those members who have made financial donations – your dollars paid for all these plants!  Special kudos to our members who made contributions in 2022 and 2023, years in which we omitted our usual annual appeal for donations: James & Jen Sperry, Nora Engel & Gustavo Klurfan, David Mark, Heather Farrel & Daniel DiCriscio, Harriet Ruffin, Elizabeth Keech, and Peter & Ellen Briggs.

Engineering and Planting Work to Be Done at the Park

In our last newsletter (Spring of 2023) we alerted you to upcoming work regrading and replanting the stream bank at the Park to comply with Pennsylvania environmental regulations intended to reduce water pollution from stormwater runoff.  The work, originally scheduled for this Fall, has been rescheduled to take place sometime this Winter.   Sections of the park will be blocked off as the work progresses, but the Park will remain open.

Off-Leash Permits for 2024

As the year’s end approaches, don’t forget to obtain an off-leash permit for 2024.  It’s easy to apply on the Lower Merion Township website.  Getting the permit contributes to park safety and also is a great way to show our Township Commissioners your support for the off-leash program.  The permit will give you off-leash privileges at both Rolling Hill and West Mill Creek parks.

2022 and 2023 Donations

Special note: in 2022 and 2023, we omitted our traditional annual request for donations. Those who contributed to Friends of WMC Park in these two years took the initiative to contribute totally unprompted by us. Thanks so much! Your donations, along with donations accumulated from previous years, subsidized the hundreds of new native trees, shrubs and perennials installed in the main park and parking lot planting beds during our Fall 2022, Spring 2023, and Fall 2023 Planting Days

Four Paws ($150 or more)

Peter & Ellen Briggs

James & Jen Sperry

Three Paws ($100 to $149)

Nora Engel & Gustavo Klurfan

David Mark

Two Paws ($50 to $99)

Heather Farrel & Daniel Dicriscio

Harriet Ruffin

One Paw (up to $49)

Elizabeth Keech

Knotweed Day #3

If we don’t finish the job in the first two Knotweed Days, we’ll finish up on this date.  Knotweed is a noxious invasive plant that vigorously self-plants itself in moist areas, degrades the ecosystem, and ultimately promotes soil erosion on stream banks.  At this annual event, we cut the plants to the ground and dispose of the stems, giving the “good guy” plants a better chance to take over the territory.  Wear long pants and long sleeves, and bring gloves!  Come and go as you please.  Water and Kind bars will be available.

Knotweed Day #2

Loading up the tarp with knotweed, June 2016

Knotweed is a noxious invasive plant that vigorously self-plants itself in moist areas, degrades the ecosystem, and ultimately promotes soil erosion on stream banks.  At this annual event, we cut the plants to the ground and dispose of the stems, giving the “good guy” plants a better chance to take over the territory.  Wear long pants and long sleeves, and bring gloves!  Come and go as you please.  Water and Kind bars will be available,

2022 Update on Fence and Parking

For those not on our email list, here’s a copy of an email to membership sent out on January 16, 2022:
 
Greetings and Happy New Year to all!   I’m writing today with a couple of Park updates:  the new split-rail fence and our various parking problems.
 
The New Fence
Several of you have asked why the new fence at the far end of the Park was installed.  The fence blocks off the farthest creek access point that many of us have been accustomed to use.    Although it is very disappointing to all of us to lose that farthest stream access, there are reasons for the change. 
 
First, the fence is intended to prevent our dogs from wandering off Park property into neighboring private properties.  Unfortunately, not all participants in the off-leash permit program are able to control and recall their dogs as the program and State Law require.  When dogs leave the Park and enter private property, it calls into question the sustainability of the off-leash program.  If the fence helps to keep dogs within Park limits, it will support public perception of the workability of our beloved off-leash privileges.  Also, keeping the dogs within Park boundaries it will keep our dogs safer.
 
Second, Lower Merion is under State mandate to reduce stream pollution. West Mill Creek Park is one of the sites that has been designated to receive remedial measures including additional planting on the stream bank to reduce erosion and polluting sediments and bring us into compliance.  Over the past couple of years of pandemic, foot traffic (both 2 and 4 legged) in the riparian buffer has compacted the soil and damaged existing plant life.  By preventing foot traffic near the stream, the fence will help to reduce water pollution and maintain the natural beauty of the Park.  As a reminder, the off-leash program rules have always stated that people and dogs are not permitted in the area between any of the split rail fences and the stream.
 
The good news is that the other three existing stream access points will remain open so our dogs can still play in the creek.  We hope you will understand and support the Township’s decision to install the new fence which we believe will benefit our community as a whole in the long run. 
 
 
Parking Issues
As we all know, our parking lot cannot accommodate all the people who want to visit the Park, and illegal parking is creating dangerous traffic problems.  Currently, the Board of Commissioners and Parks Department are actively evaluating the situation for appropriate and effective solutions.  Unfortunately, the location of the Park makes finding a solution more challenging then it may seem, as there are very specific traffic safety regulations to be interpreted and multiple governmental entities involved.  We are working with Commissioner Bernheim and the Parks Department on the parking issue.  We will support parking improvements that will make parking easier and safer.  Because the Park’s size is limited and it is already suffering from overuse, we are focusing on advocating for the creation of one or more additional dog parks to absorb the demand for this amenity rather than on major expansion of the parking lot.
 
We hope everyone will continue to enjoy the Park.  If you arrive to find all legal parking spaces taken, Rolling Hill Park is also available for off leash dog walking, and numerous Township parks allow on-leash walks.  The Township website has a list of dog-friendly parks  (scroll down the page to find the list).

 

2021 Survey Results

Every year in March, we send out a survey form with our Annual Newsletter to get member feedback and ideas. We compile every comment we receive by subject matter, then offer a response so everyone knows that their ideas were considered, whether or not they can be implemented at the time.  Here they are!

Overcrowding–Safety

Your comments: “I noticed many “new” aggressive dogs in the park lately—not sure how to teach owners to control dogs.  Very crowded due to Covid!” ** “We have been daily park goers for the past 4 years and truly love the park.  However, since the pandemic, we have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of dogs at the park.  Also, there has been an increase of larger and more aggressive dogs at the park.  Many people are not aware of the off-leash tag requirement.  Could a large sign be posted on the entry gate?  Could the tag permit be enforced especially on weekends?”

Our response: 

  • On off leash permit enforcement:  The Township has a number of open, unfilled paid positions as Parks Steward.  Parks Stewards are not dedicated to single parks, but do permit monitoring and minor maintenance chores at all the parks.  If you or anyone you know would like to take on this job, please apply!  If you google Lower Merion Parks Steward that will bring you to the jobs website where the position is posted.  Please note that Parks & Rec employees can request people to obtain permits and give out literature, but cannot issue citations—only the police can do that.  We plan to discuss stepped-up police enforcement with the Township shortly.
  • On aggression:   Information about what to do if you experience or witness aggressive behavior (by dogs or people) is posted on our website under the Gettin’ Along tab.  In addition, under “Etiquette” in the same tab, we have posted information on canny strategies to help reduce dog fights and other unpleasant incidents.  We think these pieces are very helpful and would love it if everyone would read them!

Overcrowding–Parking

Your comments: “Is there a way to permanently block the illegal parking that leads to the overcrowding?”** “Clarify where parking is allowed and where it is not.” **   ** “Is there any way to add parking? ** “Can you ask Gateway to allow parking when school is not in session? “**

Our response: 

  • On blocking illegal parking and clarifying legal parking spots:  Yes, illegal and dangerous parking on the grassy area at Mill Creek and Old Gulph Roads, and near the park entrance on Mill Creek Road is a problem.  This Fall, the Township plans to add plantings and other landscaping that will make these areas less attractive as parking spots.  In addition, they are adding “no parking” signs and have asked the police to step up parking enforcement efforts.  We have also asked the Township to put up markers on the interior of the parking lot fences to help people identify parking spaces since painted parking lines aren’t an option on the gravel.  This should help eliminate wasted space issues in our lot. 
  • On increasing our parking space:  Even though all of us hate the frustration, we are not advocating for more parking spots.  Because we believe our current problems with dog aggression and damage to park ecology largely result from over-usage of the space, adding spaces seems counter-productive.   If you get to the park and find no legal parking space, please walk your dog elsewhere. 

Park Hygiene

Your comments:  “Maybe a trash can at the other end of the park.” ** “More ‘poop’ trash cans.”  “Consider placing a sign similar to that at Rolling Hill Park, stating that masks and six foot social distancing are appropriate.” 

Our response: 

  • On covid restrictions:  We checked with the Township and they say that there are no masking requirements in place at this time for outdoor parks.  Of course, that could change any time, and if it does we expect signage will be posted accordingly.
  • On trash cans:  With respect to the additional trash bin, we sympathize but are not currently recommending this.  Given that we have three trash receptacles already, we feel that adding another detracts from our goal to preserve the natural atmosphere of the park as well as adding to the burden on the township maintenance crew.  For now, please just carry the bag around to the receptacles nearer the park entrance.  (It’s a long way for a busy park crew member to drag a heavy, stinky trash can on foot!)

Ecological/Aesthetic

Your comments: “Plant even more trees, shrubs, and perennials.” ** “The riparian area (between stream and split rail fence) is supposed to be off limits to people and dogs in order to protect against stream pollution–but trails from frequent foot traffic are appearing in it, especially right along the creek.”

Our response:  YES to more plantings!  Every year we walk the park with our naturalist consultant and add native plants intended to capture and filter pollutants, improve water quality, and add habitat for wildlife.  As to degradation of the riparian area, we are very concerned about this.  We cannot currently plant trees and shrubs to block the illegal trails because Township remediation plans to comply with State anti-pollution legislation are in process and might conflict with our planting plans. We are monitoring this situation closely.

Mud

Your comments: “Maybe stone or river rocks in the area where it gets very muddy.” **  “The loop in the back gets really muddy with rain/storm.   Maybe a small path of wood chips/mulch?**

Our response:

On river stones:  We are advised that river stones piled on top of the muddy central area would quickly become buried in more dirt as leaves and other organic matter decompose on top of them, and they have limited ability to absorb water.  Instead, we are planting native plants and trees with deep roots, which will actively absorb water, and also filter and clean the water before it enters Mill Creek.

On wood chips:  We ran the idea past the Township.  In their experience the wood chips are too light and will quickly wash away in our flood-prone park, so they don’t recommend this solution.

Volunteering

A number of people expressed interest in volunteer opportunities.  We tried to respond individually to each of you, but if we goofed and missed you, don’t give up on us!  All official work days will be announced by email, and if you are willing to work on your own, or have something specific in mind that you’d like to do, please do contact us.

General Comments

Your comments: “The park is looking beautiful!  Thanks for all the work you do.”  **  *”   “Thanks for the inclusive atmosphere!”  ** “Thank you for all the work you do.” ** “Thanks for all you do – this is our dog’s favorite park!” ** “I am not at WMC very often – it’s a 20 minute drive – but enjoy it and appreciate all the maintenance and work put in.” **  ”Thanks for all you do!”  **  “I am grateful for our wonderful leadership!”

Our response:  Thanks so much for the positive feedback.  It means a lot to all on our Steering Committee!

In Memoriam

In Memoriam Karen Garbeil 1945-2021

Karen Garbeil was a member of our Friends of West Mill Creek Park Steering Committee from our founding in October 2013 to her passing in January 2021. She and her beloved Golden Retriever, Junior, visited the park almost every day. Karen was always a friendly, inclusive presence who welcomed new park visitors and park regulars alike. The following people made donations to the Friends of WMC Park in her memory:

Judy & Yair Argon, Peter & Ellen Briggs, John Bryan & Nancy Winkler, Jill Cooper, LInda Fairstone, Paul & Gloria Feldman, Judith Freeman, Bobby Harmelin, Karen Hinckley, Nora & Barry Kramer, Susie & Paul Lichtman, Beth & David Marks, George & Antoinette Oneil, Ellen Reese & Gary Stein, and Kay Sude.

2020 Survey Results Are In!

Every year in March, we send out a survey form with our Annual Newsletter to get member feedback and ideas. We compile every comment we receive by subject matter, then offer a response so everyone knows that their ideas were considered, whether or not they can be implemented at the time. Here it is for 2020!

Mud Concerns

 Member comments:  **Continued work on water absorption and adding bird- and bee- attracting plants!  ** Plant some trees in the centermost area, near the little wetland (feeder stream) area between the wooden walkway ad the path next to Mill Creek. ** Mitigate standing water issue on rainy days.  ** Install drains to carry water into Mill Creek ** Maybe river stones down middle where it’s so muddy and holds water. **

Our response:  We heartily endorse your planting suggestions!  One of our top priorities is to continue our ongoing program to plant native trees, shrubs, and perennials.  Native plants not only reduce mud by drinking up excess water, but provide a host of other benefits including enhancing water quality in the stream, reducing flooding, and providing wildlife habitat.  Be aware that our park is in a floodplain and to a certain extent periodic flooding/wet spots are natural and ecologically beneficial.  We are seeking a balance between park user comfort and ecological benefits, so a completely dry park is not actually a goal. 

In re drains:  our park has three existing drains and, for the reasons explained above, we do not plan to advocate for more at this time.   

In re river stones:  we are advised that river stones piled on top of the muddy central area would quickly become buried in more dirt as leaves and other organic matter decompose on top of them, and they have limited ability to absorb water.  Native plants and trees with deep roots, on the other hand, will actively absorb water, and also filter and clean the water before it enters Mill Creek.

Trail Quality Concerns

Member Comments:   **Can gravel be covered with wood chips?  My dog avoids walking on large gravel chunks whenever she can – yes, I know she’s fussy.**

Our response:  With respect to covering the lumpy parts of the gravel trail with wood chips, we ran the idea past the Township.  In their experience the wood chips are too light and will quickly wash away in our flood-prone park, so they don’t recommend this solution.

Other Ecological Concerns

Member comments: ** General cleanup and invasive plants (vines) removal. **

Our response:  Definitely this is part of our mission, and normally we have volunteer days for this work.  Due to the pandemic, we have held no events in 2020 other than our annual October Planting day (labor courtesy of the Township Crew and socially distanced Boy Scouts from Troop 176—a big THANK YOU to both!).  We are hoping to resume member volunteer days when the pandemic permits.  If regular volunteer days are not an option by Spring, we may call for individual volunteers to work solo.  You will need to sign a waiver form and receive training.

Park Hygiene

Member comments:  ** Enforce (?) clean-up by all pet owners (add signs?) ** At least one trash bin in the back of the park.**

Our response:

In re clean-up, good suggestion.  We will work on signs to be placed on the pickup bag poles.

With respect to the additional trash bin, we sympathize but are not currently recommending this.  Given that we have three trash receptacles already, we feel that adding another detracts from our goal to preserve the natural atmosphere of the park as well as adding to the burden on the township maintenance crew.  For now, please just carry the bag around to the receptacles nearer the park entrance.  (It’s a long way for a busy park crew member to drag a heavy, stinky trash can on foot!)

Suggestion for Next Year’s Annual Meeting

Member comments:  What about an open meeting or talk on dog intelligence, training, owner’s expectation – from behavioral doctor at Penn Vet?

Our response:  Great idea—we alternate ecology-centered and dog-centered topics at our annual meetings, and we are due for a dog-centric talk at the next meeting, whenever that can occur.

Volunteering

A couple of people indicated their willingness to volunteer on the survey form.

Our response:  Thanks for volunteering!  We expect to be in touch with all who are willing to volunteer in Spring 2021.

General Comments

Member comments:   ** You’re doing a very nice job! **  You are all – terrific! ** Beautiful job on Park.  Thank you!  ** Love the Park! **  Even though I don’t have a dog, I’d like to support the park ** Love our Park! ** I’ve never been more grateful for our park in my life!” ** Thanks for all you do – park looks great! ** Great park, thanks for your work. ** The park looks great!  Stay well—**

Our response:  Thanks for all the encouraging words – the positive feedback is very energizing to our Steering Committee!!!