Save Oakwell

How have deforestation activists in LM responded to the proposed removal of trees from Oakwell Forest? Learn more about the organization Save Oakwell in this article.

Concerned citizens across LMSD have been advocating to save Oakwell Forest, a close neighbor to the Stoneleigh Preserve. Oakwell is a parcel of land located at the intersection of 1800 Montgomery Avenue and 1835 County Line Road in Villanova. The forest consists of 13.4 acres of mature woodlands and wetlands. It is also home to a historical estate built by William Wayne, which is accompanied by Acorn Cottage and a Garden Complex, both designed by Frank Miles Day and built in 1900. LMSD now has ownership of Oakwell and plans to use the lands as accessory fields for the new Black Rock Middle School (BRMS). This process would involve cutting down over 500 trees and disrupting an entire ecosystem. The Save Oakwell organization was formed by Lower Merion Township parents, students, teachers, and civic leaders. They are working to prevent the deforestation of Oakwell. 

BRMS already has sustainable fields onsite, but the district wants sports like soccer and football to have separate fields. They also want to have baseball and softball fields, which is why Oakwell was chosen. The site is a thirteen minute walk from the new middle school, so students will need to be bussed to the fields. Despite the hundreds of student athletes in the district, only those in seventh grade or above are permitted to play an after school sport. As an intermediate school, half of BRMS’s students will not be able to participate in athletic programs, causing some parents to feel that the extra fields aren’t necessary. 

There are several environmental factors that must be taken into consideration when discussing the fate of Oakwell. There are over 500 trees located on the property and they can process as much as 100 gallons of water per day. Holly Manzone, a member of Save Oakwell, says, “When you think about the amount of water that’s being brought up, if those trees aren’t bringing it up, where is it going to go? It’s going to land on a playing field and go washing off onto Montgomery Avenue or County Line Road and create floods.” Mazone continues to explain that as the runoff water makes its way to the Schuylkill River, it is contaminated by things like car oil and worn-off tire rubber, further polluting the river. The trees are also home to tons of animals that rely on them for survival. Topographically, Oakwell is a very hilly area, so in order to construct the new fields, the district will have to bulldoze the entire property, further destroying the ecosystem. In their efforts to stop the destruction, Save Oakwell was motivated by Greenpeace’s Fire Drill Fridays, inspired by Greta Thunberg’s words, “Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire.” Fire Drill Fridays are weekly rallies held to stop the climate crisis and demand change from the country’s leaders. On February 25, Save Oakwell held their first Fire Drill Friday in front of the District Administration office building. The organization plans to continue holding the protests for many weeks to come. Manzone says, “We’re going to be out there for as long as it takes.” Along with the protests, a petition has been started on and has received over two thousand signatures. A Facebook page titled Save Oakwell has been formed with the goal of spreading information about how citizens can help defend the forest. Meeting updates and times can be found on the Facebook page. 

The school district already owns the land, so a member of Harriton’s Environmental Club, Pauline Voelkel, suggests that the district use the Oakwell Forest as an arboretum for environmental education. Voelkel says, “It’s so close to a lot of the schools, so it could be, especially with COVID, a field trip for kids. They could get involved with the environment, run around, and also just learn about the things there because there’s a lot of historic buildings that can be talked about.” The Save Oakwell organization echoes the idea of repurposing the land, stating, “Oakwell would make an amazing arboretum, community garden, native nursery, and wildlife sanctuary.” 

Construction on Oakwell will not take place until May 2023, so there is still time to save the forest. For students who wish to get involved, Voelkel suggests attending school board meetings in person or online via Zoom. The board allows students to speak up and voice their concerns, creating the opportunity to speak about Oakwell. Writing letters or emails to district representatives may also be another effective way to push for change. Finally, Voelkel recommends emailing any questions or concerns you may have regarding Oakwell Forest and the Save Oakwell organization to [email protected]. 

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