Philadelphia City officials have broken ground on a new development project in East Fairmount Park, to transform the meadow at Sedgley Woods Disc Golf Course into a horse-stable area and equestrian riding center. But you wouldn’t know it by visiting the site. No announcement has been made, to my knowledge, and there is not even a sign on the fence, to inform the public of this major development project that threatens one of Philadelphia’s rarest wildlife habitats.
Word on the street is that Darrell Clarke, President of the Philadelphia City Council, is personally overseeing the development of the meadow site, to create a much-needed new home for the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. To proceed with any major project like this, especially on Philadelphia park land, would presumably require the authorization of top officials including Clarke and Kathryn Ott Lovell, Commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation (PP&R). However, to my knowledge, neither office has made a public statement about the Sedgley Meadow project.
In the week before the 2021 Thanksgiving holiday, there was a flurry of construction activity including tree/shrub removal and the erection of hundreds of meters of chain link fencing. This was **lightning speed** compared to other City development projects! Why the rush, without a public hearing or even a physical sign? I suspect it’s because the project as currently designed is likely to be opposed by some local residents and environmental groups.
Because of its location directly between the Schuylkill River and the East Fairmount Park Reservoir(s), the meadow at Sedgley Woods is an important habitat corridor for urban wildlife. It is also one of the few undeveloped meadows in Philadelphia. For decades, volunteers and City employees have been restoring and monitoring the Sedgley meadow, and have succeeded in transforming the space into a much-needed sanctuary of habitat for migratory birds and butterflies. A total of 139 species of birds have been recorded at the site since 2003 (eBird.org), including rare species like Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) and Dickcissel (Spiza americana) which depend on relatively undisturbed meadows for their survival. (For the record, that’s more species than have been detected at the much larger Andorra Meadow in northwest Philly!)
The Sedgley Meadow thrives because it has low foot traffic; the disc golf course is designed around its perimeter, not through its center, and this protects the meadow without the need for fencing. Until recently, the meadow was also completely surrounded by a “forest” buffer (thinner in some sections than others). However, following the plan posted above, development crews have already cut a new gap in the eastern perimeter of the meadow, about 30 feet wide, with the intention of building a road into the site and erecting even more fencing in the meadow. The planned access road crosses the path of hole #27 on the disc golf course, and fence poles have already been placed across the fairway.
I think most folks (including myself) agree that Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club needs a home, and it’s great to see the City investing in the urban cowboy culture. But, of all the places to install a new horse facility, why choose a site that requires destroying a restored meadow, one of the rarest and most precious wildlife habitats in the city? Doing so would undo decades of hard work by local conservationists. Horses need space, but any one of the hundreds of chemically-treated lawns in Philadelphia would suffice for this purpose. It makes no sense from an ecological perspective to sacrifice the meadow.
The rapid pace of this project—apparently under the radar—also stands in stark contrast to development projects at Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Park in South Philly, where there has been a long but transparent process about the City’s plans. At the very least, I think the plans to develop the Sedgley meadow should be discussed in a public hearing where local constituents and other stakeholders (e.g., representatives of the East Fairmount Park Coalition) are invited to the table in good faith. The Sedgley meadow development project will drastically alter the landscape and ecology of the area, creating a host of new issues of concern for local residents and users of the park.
If you are concerned or have questions about this development project, I urge you to contact the offices of the City officials below. Please request that the project be paused until a public hearing is scheduled.
Darrell Clarke—firstname.lastname@example.org, (215) 685-2633; (215) 685-2634
Kathryn Ott Lovell—email@example.com, (215) 683-3666
[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own. I am not an employee of PP&R, or a member of Friends of Sedgley Woods, Audubon, or any other stakeholder group based in East Fairmount Park. I am an independent, professional scientist who has been monitoring the wildlife at Sedgley meadow for more than two decades.]