Valley Forge National Historic Park

Could Coyotes be the Answer to Deer Over-Population in Valley Forge Park . . . ?

Yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer contained an opinion article by Lee Hall and Maryanne Appeal about the  deer over-population  in Valley Forge Nationa Park. (article below).  Lee Hall is vice president of legal affairs for Friends of Animals, based in Darien, Conn., vice president of West Chester-based CARE, and a Chester County resident. Maryanne Appel is secretary of CARE, correspondence director for the Pennsylvania chapter of Friends of Animals, and a Delaware County resident.

I reflected on the Hall-Appel article as I watched 5 deer grazing in our backyard this morning.  Anyone who has followed Community Matters knows how I feel on the topic of guns and gun control so no need to have that discussion.  But this notion of coyotes, as a form of deer-control, I find disturbing and dangerous. 

What about neighboring residential areas to the park . . . I would think that coyotes would pose a threat for cats and dogs, and small children?  How are coyotes going to ‘stay’ in the geographic area of the park?  But even if they stayed in the park, do coyotes not pose a threat to bicyclists, walkers, picnickers?  It seems to me the risk to human and pets is great; I just don’t see how coyotes can possibly be viewed as a solution to the deer overpopulation.  Or do coyotes only target deer . . . ?

A case for not killing the Valley Forge deer . . . Officials’ plan to hunt them is cruel and pointless.

Last winter, our advocacy groups sued to save the Valley Forge deer from a plan to kill most of them, and park officials agreed to hold their fire. This year, the officials regrouped, and the shooting has begun.

Last week, with the help of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver, Friends of Animals and CARE (Compassion for Animals, Respect for the Environment) filed an appeal urging the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to halt the gunfire in Valley Forge.

Valley Forge National Historical Park is a patch of precious wildlife habitat near the massive King of Prussia Mall. The Pennsylvania Turnpike runs along its border, and Routes 23 and 422 funnel commuters through it. Officials counted 1,023 deer in the park in early 2009, when they resolved to shoot them. In October, a federal judge deferred to a plan to annihilate most of the herd. As officials have acknowledged, though, the deer population has stabilized, having peaked near 1,400 in 2003.

Should we worry that the Valley Forge deer are doing well? An Inquirer story last month reported that officials were suggesting as much, saying “a thousand acres of forest are being eaten alive by deer” – not exactly a scientific statement, but the kind that was used to justify enlisting gunners to bait and kill deer in the park for the first time ever. We are also told that killing deer is required to prevent drivers from hitting them.

Human control of North American deer, elk, and other animals drives a phenomenon called “evolution in reverse,” in which the scrawniest are most likely to survive. It can also cause increases in the animals’ birthrate, forcing more killing. Meanwhile, more natural spaces vanish under malls and roadways, and animals concentrated into smaller areas are blamed for a laundry list of ills they didn’t create. The National Park Service plans to allow the shooting for four years. Then it vows to impose an expensive regimen of pharmaceutical birth control on the surviving 165 or so deer – maybe. The service admits that it’s uncertain about the viability of a pharmaceutical solution.

Contraception would require that the deer be captured, sedated, injected, and tagged for booster shots. They could suffer unnatural social and biological effects. Nature itself balances deer herds according to available food, terrain, and weather, as well as the presence and health of carnivorous animals, such as coyotes. Valley Forge officials apparently never considered working with the state to change policies that suppress coyote populations in the vicinity, writing off the canines’ ability to control deer (a position the government has since contradicted in a legal brief).

But coyotes do check deer populations. They take ailing, old, and young deer, thereby promote the health of herds. And coyotes already live in Valley Forge, so nobody’s calling for their introduction to the area. (All that’s been “introduced” to Valley Forge is the paraphernalia of tourist commerce: gift shops, horseback rides, trolley tours, and the like.)

If officials had examined this issue responsibly, they would have learned that more progressive jurisdictions promote human coexistence with coyotes. In Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California, residents have learned to live with coyotes, even in densely populated suburbs. And, interestingly, there is no “deer problem” in the region.

We can preserve peace in Valley Forge with the help of the community. Accidents could be largely averted through safer driving, even if that means slowing the typical Route 23 driver. Surrounding landowners could be more careful about what they plant to avoid attracting more deer, perhaps with the assistance of park officials. It’s time to move beyond shooting, hunting, and chemically controlling the animals in our midst.

The National Park Service’s stated mission is “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life” in national parks. We’re asking that Valley Forge officials return to that ecologically responsible course.

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Protests & Gunfire Headed for Valley Forge Park Next Month!

I guess we should prepare ourselves for protests and gunfire: the Valley Forge deer hunt is set for next month. The “lethal reduction” will begin in November and end in March.

Valley Forge National Historical Park officials say sharpshooters will start killing deer next month and end the first season in March, with a goal of killing 500 animals this winter. They say the park can support about 35 deer per square mile, and the current population is about 240 per square mile, or about seven times what it should be. The program, run by a federal agency will send out a small team of professional hunters with silencers and night-vision equipment to reduce the herd. The agency employs sharpshooters and the contract calls for eliminating another 500 deer next winter and 250 to 300 more in each of the last two years of a four-year deal.

Park managers say they need to thin a herd that has grown large and destructive, devouring young trees and other environmentally-sensitive vegetation.  In addition to decreasing environmental damage, the officials claim the reduction in deer will decrease the spread of Lyme Disease and vehicle crashes.

They originally planned to start the deer hunt last winter, but they delayed it so they could evaluate contractual issues and pending lawsuits by two animal-rights groups. Animal rights activists say the shootings are unnecessary and dangerous to people living nearby. Park officials respond that the hunt will take place during overnight hours to protect the public. 

I understand that there is very real problem with deer in the park, but . . . is killing 500 deer the only answer? Animal activists were able to delay the hunt by a year with legal wranglings and are promising more intervention next month.

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King of Prussia Mall Parking Lot . . . Saturday Afternoon . . . Gunpoint Robbery

This morning, there was an online news article from The Mercury with the following story. Most readers would probably have given the King of Prussia police report but a passing glance, and I too would likely have skipped over it, . . .  that is until the subject of guns in Valley Forge National Historical Park became a topic last week.  Until that new federal law was instituted allowing weapons in Valley Forge park,  I was naively going through life not giving much thought to guns in general, let alone in Tredyffrin Township.

But the reality is that now I do read the police report about the armed robbery on Saturday afternoon in the parking area of the King of Prussia Mall.   The commentary on gun ownership, individual protection, the NRA, Second Amendment rights, etc. has provided many of us with new information.  Whether its the discussion on Second Amendment rights in Valley Forge National Historical Park, or an armed robbery at our local shopping mall, this dicussion has served to open my eyes.  Gone is my innocent thinking that guns are only somewhere else . . . I am much more informed on the subject. 

    King of Prussia Mall Employee Robbed at Gunpoint

Published: Tuesday, March 2, 2010

KING OF PRUSSIA — An employee of The Court at King of Prussia was robbed at gunpoint Sunday afternoon in the mall parking lot, police said. Upper Merion police are investigating the robbery and asking the public’s help to nab a suspect.

The 20-year-old mall employee had gone from the store where he worked to his vehicle on the first level of the Court parking garage at 4:25 p.m., when he was accosted by a man with a handgun, police said. “He was going out to retrieve something out of his car,” Upper Merion Police Lt. James Early said. The officer said the incident occurred in the garage not far from Allendale Road.

The assailant reportedly pointed a black semi-automatic gun at the worker and demanded his wallet. After the victim turned over his wallet, the robber fled west on Court Boulevard toward Mall Boulevard. Investigators don’t believe the gunman knew the mall employee. Armed robberies are “pretty rare” in and around the sprawling 3-million-square-foot shopping mall complex that includes King of Prussia Plaza, The Court at King of Prussia and The Pavilion, Early said. The mall has more than 400 retail stores and dozens of restaurants.

The gunman was described as a black male in his early 20s with short black hair. He wore a black zip-up jacket and dark jeans, authorities said. Police searched the area but were unable to locate a suspect. “We’re asking anyone who witnessed the crime to call our detectives,” Early said.

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Semi-Automatic Weapons in Valley Forge National Historical Park . . . Do You Feel Safer?

This past week brought much discussion on Community Matters about sidewalks, trails and paths.  Several people suggested that if you want to walk or bicycle, why not just use the paths at Valley Forge National Historical Park.  With that in mind, I wrote the following post with the hope of engaging some lively discussion.

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The next time you decide to visit Valley Forge Park to enjoy a bicycle ride or an afternoon of sledding with the kids, are you going to feel safer? 

Did you know that as of this week, fellow visitors with proper gun permits can legally pack heat inside our national parks, including Valley Forge National Historical Park?

Yes, a law that took effect Monday lifted the long-standing ban on bringing guns into our national parks.  In Valley Forge National Historical Park, as we walk the trails and enjoy family picnics, tourists will be allowed to carry guns – handguns, rifles, shotguns and AK-47s. Now, as long as guns are allowed by state law, licensed gun owners can bring firearms on park property.  Guns will be allowed in all but about 20 of the park service’s 392 locations, including some of its most iconic parks: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as historic parks, including our own Valley Forge National Historical Park. Guns will not be allowed in visitor centers or rangers’ offices, because firearms are banned in federal buildings, but they could be carried into private lodges or concession stands, depending on state laws.

The new rule allows people to carry firearms, including semi-automatic weapons, in most national parks and wildlife refuges, so long as they follow the gun laws of the state. (That could get a little complicated, as more than 30 parks occupy land in multiple states.) The rule means people can now carry concealed weapons while camping in places like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

I admit up front that I am one of the people with issues concerning the availability of guns in this country.  My stance on stricter gun control rules will certainly strike a chord among some of the readers. I know the argument that strict gun control does not reduce crime because it does not keep weapons out of the hands of criminals. Criminals do not abide by waiting periods or registration requirements. The only people affected by these so-called “gun control” measures are law-abiding citizens, who are rendered less able to resist crime. However almost daily, our world is filled with news of gun violence in this country . . . in shopping malls, on college campuses, office buildings.

Gun crimes in any setting are horrific. However, crimes committed on the grounds of an academic institution take on an almost macabre air because of the serene atmosphere associated with such places. Gun violence on school campuses is a stark reminder that guns cannot discriminate amongst their victims, nor can they discern the intentions of those who wield them. This is repeated so often that it may as well be a cliché. If events over the past decade are any indicator, no positive response seems forthcoming. Though it is a human who pulls the trigger, there is no violent crime without the proverbial smoking gun. National parks [Valley Forge National Historical Park] like our educational institutions, are places that enshrine the ideals of knowledge and tranquility . . . should we not feel beholden to preserve these places as a utopian ideal for the future?  Do we want to be remembered as the generation that put guns into paradise?

The way I see it there are two camps on this.  First, there are the people who will feel safer knowing that they can be armed in our national parks, just in case they run into troublesome people or dangerous wildlife.  The second group will feel more unsafe.  You willl never know who is armed, and anytime there is a confrontation, firearms bring a whole new sense of alarm into the equation.  Once you pull that trigger, there’s no taking it back.  From my vantage point, toting firearms into our national parks poses a serious threat to the public.  There, I said it. Personally, the next time I am walking in Valley Forge National Historical Park, I am not going to feel safer knowing that fellow visitors on the path may be legally packing a weapon.

The new law permitting licensed gun owners to bring firearms into national parks has come over the objections of gun-control advocates who fear it will lead to increased violence in national parks.  Responding to the new law, John Waterman, President, US Park Rangers Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police offered the following statement:

The Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police has opposed this ill-considered law from the beginning. The new law goes beyond concealed carry to include all guns anytime.  The chances of an inexperienced visitor who has not seen a bear or buffalo wandering through a campground, gets frightened and takes out the now readily available firearm and shoots blindly at an animal or a person in a misguided effort to “protect themselves” from a perceived threat is now increased.  Allowing untrained and unlicensed people carrying guns in National Parks is an invitation to disaster. It puts the safety of the public and rangers at increased risk and virtually invites the desecration of our natural and historic treasures. 

Pennsylvania has fairly loose restrictions on carrying guns.  As long as a person is legally entitled to own a firearm – for instance they must have no past felony convictions, mental-health commitments or protection-from-abuse order restrictions – there is little stop a person from carrying a gun in public. I am sure that there will be readers who completely disagree with my position on the danger of guns in Valley Forge National Historical Park.  In fact, I am certain that some people will suggest that their ‘right’ to carry a gun should not stop at the park entrance.   

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Montessori Children's House of Valley Forge Opens on Valley Forge Park Grounds

The Valley Forge Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge moved in to its new ‘old’ home in Valley Forge National Historic Park this week.  The article below was in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.  Montessori Children’s House is very special to me . . . our only child spent the first 3 years of her school career at this school when it was located at St. Matthews Methodist Church on Walker Road in Wayne. This was 25 years ago, and our little girl is now grown and will graduate from medical school and marry a young attorney this May. 

Congratulations to my friend Gill Gutteridge, the parents and teachers for following your dream . . . your vision created the magic for the children!

School Opens on Valley Forge Park Grounds

By Kristin E. Holmes Inquirer Staff Writer

Not every preschooler gets to learn the alphabet in a park that commemorates an epic struggle for independence, but when 80 students at the Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge look out their window, history stares back. The students and their teachers yesterday moved into the school’s new headquarters – a renovated barn and early-19th-century house on a southern corner of Valley Forge National Historical Park.

“We are so excited,” said Gillian Gutteridge, school administrator. “When we used to take a field trip, we went to the Great Valley Nature Center or the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy. Now, we can just take them outside.” The school is one of only a handful within the country’s 392 national parks, said Phil Sheridan, spokesman for the National Park Service, Northeast Region.

But the move yesterday is an example of the kind of relationship that the park system is seeking as a way to renovate and maintain some park buildings that have fallen into disrepair or remain unoccupied. The agency enlists organizations to lease and renovate buildings on federal land that the National Park Service can no longer afford to maintain.

The Montessori Children’s House, which for four years held classes in Phoenixville, spent $3.8 million to renovate a 3.5-acre property known as the David Walker Farm, or Ivy Hollow Farm. The parcel on Thomas Road included a main house, a barn, root cellar, and several small houses. The farm had been vacant since 2002. By the time Gutteridge took her first walk through the property, a ceiling had started to fall in, and ivy was growing in the buildings. But Gutteridge saw the possibilities. She envisioned an ideal marriage between the natural resources of the park and a school that would offer hands-on lessons in science, the environment, and history.

To Gutteridge, the park was perfect. But not everyone thought so. When neighbors heard talk of the school’s relocation, some expressed concern about the increase in traffic and congestion along Thomas Road and nearby Richards Road, heavily traveled, two-lane streets with no sidewalks. “Nobody minds the sounds of laughing children,” neighbor Barton Lynch said. “It’s just the traffic it might cause.” Neighbors Richard and Jacqueline Kunin say a double standard is in play. Neighbors argued against the school for reasons similar to ones enumerated by park officials when they fought the American Revolution Center, once proposed to be built in the northern section of the park, Richard Kunin said. The site was eventually abandoned, and the project moved to Philadelphia. “They thought their argument was good enough to oppose the ARC, but ours wasn’t good enough to oppose the school,” Richard Kunin said.

While park officials acknowledged that traffic would increase, they maintained that the $375 million ARC, a complex of new construction on open land, was different from the school’s renovation of four existing buildings. “Our dual mission is education and preservation,” said Deirdre Gibson, the park’s chief of planning and resource management. “We think it’s a wonderful thing to have a private nonprofit who shares a mission with us to share a part of the park with us.” The school and the park have signed a 40-year lease.

Construction began last April. The result is a main house with beige exterior accented by black shutters, with a stone fireplace once used by colonial families to cook meals. The building will be used as a library and parent meeting room. The school building – the old barn – has large windows trimmed in red, six classrooms, and barn motifs throughout the decor. Suzanne Snyder Schrogie called the school’s relocation a welcome change. Schrogie lived with her family on Ivy Hollow Farm for 30 years before moving to Chester Springs. They had moved to the farm in 1972 but lost it in 1978 when the property was acquired by eminent domain. She was allowed to live on the park land for up to 25 more years, but left in 2002. Over the years, Schrogie raised horses in the barn, hosted children’s Halloween parties in the root cellar, and watched Michael Jackson play basketball on her home court in 1975 when the singer and his brothers were recording an album in Philadelphia. “I’m thrilled with what they have done,” Schrogie said of the renovation.

Yesterday, teachers led the children on tours. Wow was perhaps the most popular word of the day. Four-year-old Ben Kenneck pronounced his new school “great,” and an improvement over the old, “much more boring-er” school building in Phoenixville. For Gutteridge, it’s like coming home: “I can’t think of anything better for the Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge than to be in Valley Forge.”

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All in a Name . . . Patriots Path Plan

Following tonight’s Board of Supervisor Meeting will be a Public Hearing for the Patriots Path.  The Patriot Path Plan is a proposed trail network which will connect historic American Revolutionary War sites within East Whiteland, Malvern Borough and Tredyffrin Township via the Chester Valley trail system. The path would connect East Whiteland’s Battle of the Clouds Park, Malvern Borough’s Paoli Memorial Grounds and adjacent Paoli Battlefield, which was the site of the infamous Paoli Massacre, and Valley Forge National Historical Park.

The Board of Supervisors adopted the Tredyffrin Township Park, Recreation and Open Space Plan (PROS) in 2005.  The PROS plan was included in the township’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan. The primary benefit of incorporating the Patriots Path Plan in the Comprehensive Plan is for help with future funding opportunities.  As part of the multi-municipal effort, the Patriots Path funding opportunities could be increased.  That said, tonight’s discussion does not imply a commitment to build the trail, nor impose any timeline on further action.

The purpose of the public hearing will be to consider the adoption of the Patriots Path Plan as part of the Tredyffrin’s Comprehensive Plan. There are two segments of the Patriots Path that are located within Tredyffrin Township:

  • Valley Forge Segment: 1.8 mi. connection from the Chester County Trail to Valley Forge National Historic Park through Tredyffrin Township
  • Cedar Hollow Segment: 1.8 connection from Chester County Trail to Cedar Hollow Preserve and Cool Valley preserve via the Warner Spur Trail and then extending an additional mile to East Whiteland to connect to the Valley Creek Segment.

There is concern among some of my Great Valley neighbors over the proposed Patriots Path and the proximity of the path to their properties.  Tonight’s discussion should be useful for members of the community who are ‘for and against’ the proposed path. Sometimes misunderstanding of the facts can be at the root of the problem; tonight’s information session should help both sides with any misinformation. 

For many of us, we will recall the years that some Radnor Township residents spent in argument over the 2.2 mi P&W Radnor Trail.  There were resident that lived next to the abandoned railroad tracks that were very much opposed to it and the trail debate lasted decades (lawsuits, gag orders, etc) and became a major political issue. The Radnor Trail finally became a reality and many of the resident’s earlier fears have not materialized.  In fact, I’m thinking that many of the neighbors probably use the Radnor Trail themselves and the trail certainly stands as a success story and attribute to the Radnor community.

The success of Radnor Trail aside, we need to look at the Patriots Path Plan and make sure that concerns/questions of Great Valley residents can be answered by the township staff and the Supervisors.  Good open discussion is always helpful — here’s hoping that tonight’s public hearing will provide that kind of forum.

I thought it might be useful to give some links to those of you who like to read further about the proposed Patriots Path Plan.  Tim Lander, member of the Open Land Conservancy and also on the Sidewalks, Trails and Path Committee offered helpful information, including articles concerning the Radnor Trail and providing a vintage photo (below) of the trestle bridge over Valley Creek.  I encourage people to attend the Public Hearing tonight and if interested, review the following documents:

former trestle across Valley Creek, with nothing but farmland in sight (foreground is now the OLC Cool Valley Preserve);
The former trestle bridge across Valley Creek in the Great Valley, with nothing but farmland in sight (foreground is now the Open Land Conservancy’s Cool Valley Preserve);
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Pending Lawsuit Offers Holiday Reprieve for Deer at Valley Forge National Historic Park

Deer grazing at Valley Forge National Historic Partk

I looked out an upper floor window of our home to a very picturesque scene of 8 deer, including a buck standing against the backdrop of newly fallen snow. I watched as the white-tailed deer grazed off the low-hanging tree branches in the backyard. Deer are creatures of habit, and contrary to popular belief, the majority of them do not migrate. A buck is known to travel upwards of 100 miles but does will stay within the same 3 to 4 square miles for their entire life. This means, the deer you see this year, are probably the same deer you saw last year. It also means that once they’ve found a food source in your backyard they’ll be back for seconds. Like so many Tredyffrin residents, we too have an ongoing love-hate relationship with these animals.

We have tried all the traditional and not so traditional remedies to deter the deer . . . human hair clippings, hanging bars of soap, special deer repellent sprays, etc. . . all with not much success.  No one can deny how beautiful and majestic these animals are, but unfortunately they see our plants and shrubs as a buffet that we didn’t invite them to! While we’d like to enjoy their beauty, we can do without the widespread loss to our landscapes and gardens.

So, it is with great interest that I have followed the saga of the Valley Forge National Historic Park’s (VFNHP) long-planned and controversial kill of 500 deer. Currently there is a pending lawsuit by 2 animal-rights groups against VFNHP, Friends of Animals and Compassion for Animals. The animal-rights groups believe that the park should be maintained by natural means. A couple of days before Christmas, the deer were granted a holiday stay of execution with the recent lawsuit filing. The federal judge assigned to the case is not expected to rule before May 31, which means that it will be next November at the earliest before another planned deer kill can take place (depending on the outcome of the lawsuit). The park’s plan had called for contract sharpshooters to kill at least 1,500 deer over the next 4 years. The plan was for federal employees to use silencer-equipped rifles, mostly at night. The herd has grown big and destructive and park officials claim the kill will eradicate approximately 86% of the deer population.

In addition to the animal-rights groups, there is also concern from another local organization, Keep Valley Forge Safe. This group maintains that the gunfire could injure people living near or visiting the park.  They doubt that the plan is safe, given that  homes and shopping malls now surround the 3,500 acres where General George Washington and his troops spent the winter of 1777-78.  Park officials claim that complete safety provisions are in place and that the proper public hearing process was followed.  It is the feeling of park officials that the deer have created a crisis; they are eating so many plants and tree saplings that they are throwing the park’s environment balance and regeneration process off. The deer are also blamed for scores of vehicle accidents within the park each year.

Have you or anyone you know suffered from deer tick lyme disease?  How close have you come to hitting a deer as you drive on the local roads? Do you support a deer kill in Valley Forge National Historic Park? Are you a Bambi-supporter and prefer that the park officials just leave the deer alone? Or, do you see our local deer population as 4-legged nuisances that destroy our gardens and put us and our cars in danger? For me, I recognize that we have a serious deer problem in this area and I also accept that there is probably not a perfect answer.  But I would ask the question, if all  possible solutions to the problem been explored and the deer kill is viewed as the best option?  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject.

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Marching In is Cancelled at Valley Forge National Historic Park

Just in — Valley Forge National Historic Park has cancelled their marching in ceremony scheduled for later today:

All scheduled activities to commemorate the March-in Event at Valley Forge NHP are cancelled due to sever weather forecasts. The event will not be re-scheduled. If you are planning on visiting the Park this weekend please call in advance to see if we are open, 610-783-1099. Thank you and be safe this weekend.

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