Sunday, April 08, 2007

I don’t think I’m going to make it out herping this weekend. The weather has not been great – today it’s sunny and in the high 40s, so with some intense searching I might be able to turn up some frigid little redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), some streambed salamanders, some lingering breeding ambystomid salamanders, and maybe another cache of brown snakes (Storeria d. dekayi), (writing out that list makes me feel a little like this weather excuse is really flimsy), but I am planning a lot of herping next weekend and even during the week, and I’ve decided to take care of a lot of non-herping stuff this weekend.

I would like to report some herping-related research I’ve been doing, though. I’ve been getting more and more curious about the brown snake territory around Parkside and 49th. I’ve assumed a lot about the history of the site from the ruins of old buildings, but I’d like to learn the details of the site’s actual history: what was there from the colonial period up to the present? What did these brown snakes’ ancestors see when they climbed out of their hibernacula in April fifty, one hundred, two hundred, four hundred years ago?

Starting with the future, I found this press release on Lowe’s Home Improvement website about their new store being built in West Philadelphia. This is a good thing. I say that because I think it’s true but also to remind myself that it is. Of course I don’t want to see brown snakes killed by the hundreds and their homes capped with asphalt and home repair supplies, but that neighborhood could really, really use some economic development, and if the region is going to be building shopping centers, it’s better to be building them on urban brownfields than sprawling out over farmland, forests, and wetlands. We don’t need more traffic to wipe out more herps out in Chester and Bucks County and in South Jersey, and I hope more people and businesses pick the city of Philadelphia over the suburban alternatives.

This property has a name. The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) calls it the West Parkside Industrial Park ( and you can follow that link to see maps of the site. I have found most of the snakes on parcels 1 and 2, but also on 4 and 5. The building is happening now on parcel 3, as far as I can tell, where I haven’t found any snakes at all.

One of the most interesting uses of the land was by Phoenix Foods. I’m still not clear on where exactly on the land Phoenix Foods was located, but the company build some innovative greenhouses to grow basil and tilapia (fish also known as St. Peter’s fish) together. The basil were grown with their roots in tanks of water, and they gained nutrients from the waste produced by the tilapia growing in those same tanks. It was a really exciting experiment in urban agriculture, but unfortunately their deal to get low-cost energy fell through, and that killed the enterprise. The whole thing was started up by Lance Haver, a famous local consumer rights advocate. Here are a couple City Paper articles on the venture:

My next step is to figure out what’s up with all those horses in parcel 2.