Debates on crowded parks and closures continue in NJ and Philly. A petition to save “Graffiti Highway” in Centralia. And, does PA have its own Tiger Kings?

The moon (rises, sets?) over the Wissahickon Creek on the early morning of April 12, 2020. [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]

By Kyle Bagenstose

Today brings a fine spring day: mostly sunny skies with temperatures over 50 degrees by morning and adding a few more into the afternoon. Looks like the first of a string of three such days, which are perfect for a just slightly bundled walk, hike, or bike ride.

Today’s headlines and highlights

Let’s start in New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy’s order to shutdown all state and county parks still stands after a week. Radio station New Jersey 101.5 reports that yesterday, some Republicans members of the state Assembly made a push to pass a resolution urging Murphy to rescind the order, calling it a well-intentioned mistake. Assemblyman Jay Webber, from Morris County, didn’t throw any bombs in making the push, instead arguing that other policy options like shuttering only some parks or closing them to out of state visitors would be a better option.

Democrats didn’t buy, shutting down the push in a procedural vote, 52-27. Later in the day, NJDEP commissioner Catherine McCabe released a statement that appeared aimed at offering an empathetic response to those wanting to see parks re-open while still reinforcing the closure.

“Temporarily closing the parks and forests during the surge of the COVID-19 outbreak was a very difficult, but necessary, decision. All of us at DEP understand the need for fresh air and exercise,” McCabe wrote. “Unfortunately, as weather warmed in recent weeks, just as the COVID-19 outbreak was surging, the crowds at our parks became too large for our State Park Police to continue ensuring the social distancing that is so critical in our fight to prevent further spread of the virus.”

McCabe gave no indication of what might trigger parks to re-open, besides when the situation becomes “safer.” Environmental groups such as the New Jersey Audubon continue to support the state’s decision.

In Pennsylvania, crowded parks also continue to make headlines. Specifically in Philadelphia, where the Inquirer’s Inga Saffron reports that seven organizations, including recreational groups and civic associations, have written to Mayor Jim Kenney asking him to close additional roads and make more space for pedestrians. The movement appears to be organizing and gaining steam, with five city councilmembers also lending their support. A particular target is the closure of the outer lanes of the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Kenney’s office has yet to render a decision, telling the Inquirer it’s under consideration.

Up state, controversy is also brewing in Centralia, which many adventure seekers know for its abandoned, graffiti-covered “highway.” About 90 minutes northwest of Allentown, Centralia is essentially a ghost town due to a coal mine fire still burning underground after nearly 60 years. Last week, the land’s private owner moved to begin covering the roadway with clay, sparking an outcry that made it all the way to CNN.

Schuylkill County’s Republican-Herald reports (also readable via The Morning Call) that an online petition to “save” the roadway is underway, urging Gov. Tom Wolf to step in. The petition has doubled over the past day, with 30,000 people now lending their names.

In other slightly off-beat stories, Pennlive’s Marcus Schneck takes a little dive into exotic pet ownership in Pennsylvania, noting that the state has “no Tiger King,” due to its better-than-most restrictions on such ownership. However, there are still a dozen private owners of tigers, which don’t include zoos, in the state.

And wrapping up news in the Keystone State, this week is also PA Clean Water Week, promoted jointly by the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, PennFuture, and Choose Clean Water to raise awareness about the importance of the state’s waterways. The hashtag #PACleanWaterWeek was bearing fruit yesterday, with posts about drinking water, healthy creeks, and fishing.

News notes, and things to do:

  • WHYY’s Catalina Jamarillo reports that the Franklin Institute has put together a nature scavenger hunt families can do in their own neighborhoods. First order of business? Killing lanternfly (egg masses) of course!
  • The Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watership Partnership is hosting a webinar at 7 p.m. tonight to explain the iNaturalist app, which allows a user to identify and photograph flora and fauna in their neighborhoods.
  • 6ABC in Philly has a quick spot on the importance of trees in urban areas. The report also highlights the environmental inequity of tree cover based on the socioeconomic status of neighborhoods.

And that’s the rundown of today’s environmental news in the Delaware Valley. See something we didn’t cover? Drop me a line at

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