Ribbon cutting for outdoor classroom in Penn Township09/27/2022 02:57PM ● By Steven Hoffman
A dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting was held for the new E. Kneale Dockstader Environmental Education Area and Outdoor Classroom on Sept. 13, at the Penn Township Sports Park. The four-acre parcel is dedicated to the preservation of the natural habitat and the promotion of it for the purposes of environmental and scientific education.
The ceremony was held after several postponements for inclement weather, with officials from the township, the E. Kneale Dockstader Foundation and the Avon Grove Library on hand. All were involved in the creation of the outdoor classroom, as were the Eagle Scouts who helped with the physical construction.
The Outdoor Classroom has seating, a lectern and black board where classes can be held in the wooded area. Students and visitors can also walk the trail in the surrounding woods to get a look at the local habitat including a previously unnamed tributary of the Big Elk Creek. The creek is now called the Kneale’s Creek after the Dockstader Foundation namesake, E. Kneale Dockstader.
The Foundation was created by South East Chester County Refuse Authority in honor of volunteer E. Kneale Dockstader. The Foundation provides grants to support environmental projects in the community.
“The Dockstader Foundation we appreciate very much,” said Herb MacCombie, chairman of the Penn Township Parks Recreation and Trails Committee. “ The pandemic put everything back a bit, but we are here through the dedication of the resources by the supervisors and (the Foundation’s) funding. They say it takes a village. The people here are all active—they’re actually putting their hands and feet to work.”
The Foundation provided a $10,000 grant in 2020 for construction of the trail, outdoor classroom, and pedestrian bridge over the creek. A 2021 grant in the amount of $7,500 provided funding for the Story Walk and children’s activities at the outdoor classroom.
“This is exactly the kind of thing at Dockstader that we saw our foundation can do,” said Darla DiSabatino, the Dockstader Foundation past president and interim Foundation manager.
Four Eagle Scout projects contributed to the area with oversight and support from Penn Township and Star Roses. Working with teams of other scouts and adults, Gage Walker built three concrete pads for benches along the trail, Daniel Giacoio built benches and the outdoor chalkboard, Bradley Gerwig built the timber lectern and accessible workstations, and Aiden Graham built raised beds with native plants.
Avon Grove Library, with the help of Penn Township staff, has been involved with the area by installing a “Story Walk” along the trail. Pages from a colorful children’s book are posted along the trail, so that youngsters can combine walking, reading, and learning in the outdoors. The first book to be offered is “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates” by Ryan Higgins. The library will periodically change the book stations so that the Story Walk will have something new and engaging for young readers.
Although the pandemic delayed development of the park, it also pointed out the park’s value to the community.
“Everything in the world stopped. Our community at large needed something more,” Township Director of Operations Karen Versuk said. “The one thing we learned from the pandemic was that our community relied so heavily on our trails and playgrounds and parks. You (the Foundation) all provided us with the ability to put this in and fast track the project so that we could give our community something in the past two years. Now we’re uniquely suited to continue into the next few years.”
The area is one of the first features to be installed at the Penn Township Sports Park. Future plans call for a variety of ball fields and active play areas.