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Whitemarsh Foundation Looking To The Future

The Whitemarsh Foundation was granted nonprofit status in 2003, which means they are nearing their 20th anniversary of serving the community by preserving open space in the Whitemarsh Valley.

In less than two decades, what the organization has been able to accomplish is nothing short of remarkable.

“The organization was established in order to preserve as much of the 450-acre Erdenheim Farm as possible. By 2009 Whitemarsh Foundation was successful in preserving approximately 190 acres in the Angus and Sheep Tracts of Erdenheim Farm, whose origins date back to the 1700s,” says Kim Sheppard, a Founder and President of Whitemarsh Foundation. “In the early 2000s, so much of that land was being looked at by developers, and it was really important to the community that it be preserved. This particular open space is located in the center of over 2000 acres of contiguous open space bordering the city of Philadelphia. The Hill at Whitemarsh and some of their residents played an integral role in helping us achieve the goal of preservation. And, fortunately, in addition to our original efforts, a private family stepped in to purchase and protect the remaining acreage of the 450-acre gentleman’s farm.”

Once the land had been protected in perpetuity, the organization focused on maintaining the preserved land for agricultural use, and that goal was also accomplished. Sheppard and her team decided to set their sights on creating the 14-acre Dixon Meadow Preserve; they have been able to establish this nature preserve as a major ecological and environmental safe haven that is open to the public, for everyone in the community to enjoy.

In the past few years, the nature preserve has become an Audubon Important Birding Area and a mecca for birding enthusiasts. People come from all over the state of Pennsylvania to see the birds that fly and migrate into the preserve. It is also home to a monarch butterfly repopulation program and a variety of other flora and fauna activities.

“It was created, in part, to help with stormwater management and re-establish the bluebird population. Some of The Hill residents have played a central role in monitoring the birds and the bird houses during peak birding season,” says Sheppard. “Incredibly, a rare bird sighting, a first-of-its-kind in the state, happened in October 2018, when the midwestern rock wren was spotted in our preserve.”

With ongoing mindful stewardship, the Preserve continues to mature and attract new and interesting wildlife to this 14-acre gem.

Moving Beyond the Preserve

With many of the organization’s primary goals achieved in these last 20 years, Whitemarsh Foundation has found new ways to promote open space and its benefits by focusing more on the greater community.

In 2016, Whitemarsh Foundation completed the restoration of an 1850s original manor home on the Angus Tract property. Located adjacent to the preserve and now known as Dixon Meadow House, the property received a nationally renowned COTY award for the restoration. This farmhouse is now home to Whitemarsh Foundation and its varied educational programs. The programs being conducted range from hosting local residents of all ages, to inner city students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about water quality, various native species, and their influence on our environment.

“We’ve established programs with local independent schools year-round, with the Township during the Spring and Summer months, and with like-minded organizations, like Awbury Arboretum, which is actually located in the City of Philadelphia,” explains Sheppard. “Together with the Arboretum, we’ll be working with the Emlen school system to host a water conservation program for third graders.

They will be pulling water samples from the preserve and the Wissahickon Creek and running various tests with other water samples gathered, by one of our volunteers, from within National Parks out west. It’s really a remarkable program that aims to get kids from an urban area more involved with nature.”

And it’s not just children that the Foundation aims to connect with. Whitemarsh Foundation hosts a variety of events in the Dixon Meadow Preserve that are geared towards adults as well; from nature photography workshops and birding classes, to plein air painting classes, to nature journaling, and more. The organization brings in a variety of professionals and experts to guide people through these diverse experiences.

“Our goals for 2020 and beyond are really more strategic than our initial goals were,” says Sheppard. “We want to further grow the Dixon Meadow Preserve – in fact, we just planted more trees and shrubs and will continue to carefully select native species to place throughout the preserve. This will allow it to grow to its fullest potential over the coming years. We also want to continue to grow our educational programs and serve as a responsible steward to our properties.”

Supporting Open Spaces

With the growing concern for our environment and the changes to our climate becoming more urgent with each passing day, it’s more important than ever for people to devote time and energy to preserving our open spaces. For the past seven years, Whitemarsh Foundation has partnered with some of Philadelphia’s most acclaimed chefs for the Open Space Local Kitchens Fundraiser.

The 2019 dinner was held at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club, and featured the culinary stylings of 12 local chefs, including the Executive Chef from The Hill at Whitemarsh, Adam Ochs. The October farm-to-table event celebrated the 10-year achievement of preserving the Angus and Sheep Tracts of Erdenheim Farm, and raised a significant amount of money for future projects.

“As in years past, Chef David Jansen of his namesake restaurant, Jansen, in Mt. Airy; Yianni Arhontoulis of Mica in Chestnut Hill; Pete Sherba of the Blue Bell Inn; and so many more wonderful chefs volunteered their time. It was a truly wondrous and most delicious evening!” says Sheppard. “Participation has grown not only in terms of which chefs and guests are involved each year, but also in the sophistication of the event itself — the decor, the ambiance and energy, and even the incredible auction items.”

Mark your calendars now for the 8th Annual Open Space Local Kitchens event, which is scheduled for October 2020, and sure to sell out quickly. It’s an event you won’t want to miss, for a cause that is truly worth fighting for.

For more information about Whitemarsh Foundation’s history, events, and donation process, visit their website at whitemarshfoundation.org.