A 24-acre tract of open land in Roxborough has been spared from development thanks to an anonymous $3 million grant provided to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.
A 24-acre tract of open land in Roxborough has been spared from development thanks to an anonymous $3 million grant provided to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, which had, as recently as this summer, been seeking to sell the land to raise funds.
“We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of the donors,” said Christopher P. McGill, president of the center’s Board of Trustees. “This gift will have a significant impact for generations to come.”
The largest privately-owned tract of undeveloped land inside the city limits, the site could have been very attractive to developers. Dubbed the Boy Scout Tract due to its historic use as a camping location for Boy Scouts, it is currently zoned for up to 80 residential units.
Earlier this year, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education floated a proposal to sell it with strict conservation easements.
“The worst case scenario was that there was going to be very limited development there,” said Mike Weilbacher, the center’s executive director. “But this is even better.”
Weilbacher called the gift “a watershed moment in our history.”
“We are so thankful to the donors for this, our largest gift, ever,” Weilbacher continued. “We will be able to parlay this $3 million gift into bigger and better things…while at the same time responding to the community’s strong desire to preserve the Boy Scout Tract.”
Much to neighbors’ delight, the tide began to turn for the 24-acre piece of land when the Schuylkill Center retracted an RFP that sought development ideas for the tract in September.
Rich Giordano, president of the Upper Roxborough Civic Association, said that he was happy the Schuylkill Center “has stepped back from the abyss and decided to withdraw the RFP for possible sale of the Boy Scout Tract.”
“We can now begin to work together with [the center] to create conservation easements on the property, so that it can be preserved in perpetuity,” he said.
The center has engaged Natural Lands, the region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization, to create the conservation easement. Currently, Natural Lands holds the easement on the center's 340-acre main campus, across Port Royal Avenue from the Boy Scout Tract property.
“This is an important step for conservation in the city as development continues to replace green space,” said Oliver Bass, president of Natural Lands. “We applaud the Schuylkill Center and the community for coming together to find this conservation solution.”
The easement process is expected to take six to nine months to complete.
Since its founding in 1965, the Schuylkill Center has protected more than 400 acres of open space in Roxborough, including its main campus. Bounded by Port Royal Avenue, Hagys Mill Road, Spring Lane, and the Schuylkill River Trail, the Center’s programs had previously been run on 340 acres of permanently protected land, the largest preserved private property in Philadelphia. Instead, that number will now stand at 365.
“This land,” Weilbacher said, “now joins all of our other protected open spaces in Upper Roxborough.”