Cobbs Creek Environmental Center opens new world

Tykee James, 18, works the demonstration garden at the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center. – PHOTO BY NATHANIEL LEE

Residents and students of West and Southwest Philadelphia can learn more about the natural environment thanks to programs held at the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center at 7000 Cobbs Creek Parkway in West Philadelphia.

At the center, area schools conduct environmental classes and have access to a laboratory where they can test water and soil samples.

Environmental educator Tony Croasdale works as the center’s program coordinator and enjoys describing the various programs and activities held at the park.

“We have the senior environment Corps, a group of retired seniors who get together a few times a month to test the water in the creek and we also have public walks in the summer every Tuesday at 5 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 a.m.,” said Croasdale.

These public walks are conducted by a naturalist from the center, and led by students of the center. In order to closely observe the natural beauty of the park, the center provides binoculars to those participating in the tours.

During summer months, youth also have an opportunity to participate in the center’s Park Management Program designed specifically for youth.

“Student workers are paid to be here and actually are trained in forestry, gardening, water testing, species control and actually work and get training in those disciplines,” Croasdale said.

The center also added an environmental nature scene bike club which was introduced by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Along with supervising and directing activities at Cobbs Creek Park, Croasdale also helps local schools.

“I coordinate several programs here, including the junior docent programs where we train high school high school students from in and around Cobbs Creek to be guides in the park where they can lead tours and activities,” Croasdale said. “I also coordinate environmental science clubs where schools in West and Southwest Philadelphia get to go on field trips.”

These trips, says Croasdale, include water department facilities and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and are sponsored by the Water Department.

The Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center has come a long way since its days as a horse stables originally built in 1937 by the Works Project Administration to for the park service.

Today it has transformed itself into an educational and scientific center with classrooms, a laboratory complete with science equipment, and community conference rooms.

Then there’s the garden.

“Outside we have a demonstration garden where we grow crops and we grow specimens of flowers and shrubs,” said Croasdale who added that the garden focuses on native flowers and shrubs from the area.

There is also an outside ampitheater where outside classes can be held in a scenic, natural environment.

Tykee James, 18, works at the center. He was introduced to the center at a presentation held by Croasdale at his school, Motivation High School. After hearing about the program, he applied.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity to be introduced to the environment in such a way,” said James. “It really opens your eyes to, not only Cobbs Creek and Philadelphia, but to the problems of the world and how we can apply it to the environment.”

James says that he had no idea what he was doing in the beginning and found the experience very humbling. Later, however, he began learning about the natural plants and birds.

“This is a wonderful place. To realize that a lot of people don’t even know that Cobbs Creek exists is baffling to me. I wish more people knew about it,” says James who has moved to Philadelphia from Texas a year ago.

For more information about the Cobbs Creek Community Education and Environmental Center, call (215) 301-7940.

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