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Photo Tour: Wetland Education Center Transforms Simple Basin into Beautiful, Educational Park

by on August 31, 2014 6:15 PM

Outside of being a “maintenance headache,” State College Borough Arborist Alan Sam says there was nothing wrong with the storm water detention basin along Westerly Parkway.

Yes, the vines looping through the barbed-wire-topped fence made it rather ugly – but it did its job well. Storm water flowed in from one side and slowly drained out the other, helping to prevent flooding for almost 50 years.

But Sam saw something else: opportunity.

In the early 2000s, Sam started prompting discussion about the basin. It was a two-and-a-half acre eyesore, and he knew with a little hard work the borough could make it something more.

Today, the plot of land still works as a detention basin – but it’s also the Westerly Parkway Wetland Education Center. The fence is still there, but the vines and barbed wire are gone, replaced by a scenic and educational spot to walk, rest and learn.

Hundreds of people drive past it every day, probably unaware of this hidden gem's existence. It's nestled in between the Parkway Plaza apartment complex and the Westerly Parkway Plaza shopping center.

“This is a project that’s very near and dear to my heart, and one that we had on the back burner for a long time,” Sam says. “This isn’t the grandiose vision we might have originally had, but it serves as an educational tool for people not familiar with wetlands while still being a park-like setting.”

A walking path dotted with benches circles around an expanse of wetland wild plants and flowers. If you look hard enough among the vivid yellows and greens of the plants, you can find ducks, groundhogs and other wetland lovers.

“We originally planned to do a lot more excavation, to re-sculpt it so it’s not a big engineered triangle,” Sam says.

To offset the cost of this planned excavation and soil replacement, the borough applied for grants from the Department of Environmental Protection. Their applications were denied, but the project persevered.

With the help of the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources and volunteers from all over the State College community, the borough constructed the walking path, installed informational signage and a butterfly garden and planted a wide variety of wetland vegetation.

“In theory, it was working fine before all this with no reason to change it,” Sam says. “But green spaces are important, and we’re also looking for more in the borough.”

Now the center is a popular sight for joggers and people walking their pets – as well as high school and university students on educational excursions. 

“This was a neat project that never would’ve gotten done without a lot of volunteers,” Sam says, including students from the high school and Penn State, local garden clubs and the native plant society. “There were a lot of different groups that had a vision that this could be something good.”


Photo Gallery - Westerly Parkway Wetlands Education Center Photo Tour

Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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