Save Oakwell: A Sequel

Local activists and students continue to push against the plan to clear Oakwell forest.

Many local residents are concerned about how cutting down Oakwell trees will impact the environment | Graphic by Ilana Zahavy ’24/Staff

Protests continue to escalate in the fight to save Oakwell Forest from clearcutting and deforestation. The LMSD is currently planning to turn Oakwell, 13.4 acres of forest and wet- lands in Villanova, into supplementary playing fields for Black Rock Middle School. This plan is strongly opposed by local activists and environmental scientists, and the organization Save Oak- well, who argue that the destruction would be detrimental to the local ecosystem. Oakwell was bought by the LMSD in 2018, and without intervention, clearcutting is scheduled to begin in May of 2023. Activists say this means there is still time, and hope to defend Oakwell. As covered last spring, Oakwell Forest is a historic site and home to over 700 trees, some dating back to before 1700. As a major part of our water system, activists worry their removal could lead to flooding on Montgomery Road. Oakwell is instrumental in preventing flooding and erosion and is a vital water source for three different watersheds. Oakwell supports biodiversity, provides shelter for animals and keeps tick and mosquito borne illnesses away from vulnerable populations. Trees are also critical to the local air quality, essential to keeping temperatures cool and pre- venting asthma. Black Rock Middle School is notably far from the forest, which has led to concerns over how students will be trans- ported to the Oakwell fields. Also, because Black Rock already sits on 22 acres of land and only half of the student body (seventh and eighth graders) have the option to participate in competitive sports, some are further startled by the choice to bulldoze the three-century-old forest trees. Additionally, this project has been called fiscally and environmentally irresponsible, releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and cost-ing a fortune in taxpayer dollars. With the impacts of climate change already looming, and the demand for careers in environmental sciences and protections on the rise, some have proposed Oakwell as a resource to educate future generations since a forest with such a variety of trees could provide a unique opportunity to learn about sustainability. For students concerned about the climate crisis or interested in preserving Oakwell Forest, there is good news. As Pauline Voelkel ’23, president of Harriton’s Environmental Club, said, “the work of students will achieve much more than the work of adults.” The school board is specifically receptive to students, and through attending and speaking at the upcoming meetings on October 18 and November 21, students can help protect their futures and environment. Students can also write to the school board and administrators or their county commissioners. A large portion of the power to preserve Oakwell Forest lies in county commissioners, our local elected officials. Go to lookup. to find your commissioner and send an email urging them to protect the forest. Students can also join the Save Oakwell organization at their weekly protests outside LM, Fridays from 2:30 to 3:30, and share information about Save Oakwell through social media.

Save Oakwell leader Shawn McMurtry explains, “The future is now. We are working harder than ever to engage LM residents to let LMSD know that destruction of Oakwell would be a grave, irreversible error. Student voices are among the most important of all. Students will live with the effects of climate change and be affected in ways that we can only begin to imagine.” Students in Harriton’s Environmental Club and SAGE organization have already begun mobilizing to save Oakwell Forest, and LM has the opportunity to make a stand before it is too late. Even with a date of May 2023 looming, McMurtry and other movement leaders are certain that there is hope. With legal approval pending, students have the power to preserve our environment for future generations.

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