LOWER MAKEFIELD >> The Board of Supervisors on August 7 publicly recognized resident Katharine Burke for her efforts to preserve a township-owned parcel of land on Oxford Valley Road.
When she was 14, Burke attended a Board of Supervisors meeting to implore the board to preserve the 26 acres of wetland and woods. At the time, the board was considering selling 8.6 acres of the property to the neighboring Bible Fellowship Church, now Riverstone Church, for parking.
Reading from a passage from Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” Burke stood before the board and said, “I speak for the trees. Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, things aren’t going to get better. They’re not.”
Her words had staying power over the next few years as the supervisors first grappled with selling part of the land to the church, before changing direction and voting eventually to preserve much of the site with a 26 acre conservation easement that will protect the site's existing wetlands, forested area and central “silt pile.”
“The point is that you cared. Things got better,” Supervisor Chairman Dan Grenier told Burke on August 7. “And we were able to bring this to a closure with a conservation easement.”
Applause filled the meeting room as Grenier joined the board in presenting the recognition to Burke, now age 21 and a senior in college.
“I know many people, myself included, have looked forward to this day for a very long time,” said Burke. “This conservation would not have been possible without the help of Lower Makefield residents who lobbied for the preservation of the woods over the past several years.
“I would also like to acknowledge Riverstone Church for being a good neighbor throughout the years and being sensitive to the community’s wishes,” said Burke.
“I was just a small part in a larger effort to save the woods that so many in our township treasure,” Burke continued.
Her journey to save the woods began in 2012 when her parents, along with many of their neighbors, began raising awareness of a proposal by Bible Fellowship to buy part of the woods from the township for a parking lot.
“At the time I was 14, a freshman in high school with a fear of public speaking,” recalled Burke. “I only attended one meeting and once there decided to impulsively quote a line from ‘The Lorax’ during public comment: ‘I speak for the trees. Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, things aren’t going to get better. They’re not.’”
When representatives from the church once again proposed to buy the land in late 2016 and early 2017, Burke was away at college and thought there was nothing she could do “to help my community as once again they were gathering to save our woods.“
When she came home from college that winter she photographed the wildlife living at the site and emailed her photographs to the board showing them “there was, in fact, a vibrant wildlife population living in the silt pile behind my house.
“When I was home again that spring I stood before the board once more and told them about the importance of the tract of land to the local ecosystem. I was 18,” said Burke. “Now I’m 21 and a senior in college and I’m relieved to know that the woods, which have been part of my daily landscape for so long, will continue to be a beautiful constant for others.”
Grenier held up a receipt given to him by township solicitor David Truelove. The receipt finalizes the township’s purchase of the conservation easement that will protect 26 of the 29 acre site for future generations.
“It’s been a long time in coming,” said Grenier. “A lot of people on this board, on our various boards and commissions, in the community and behind the scenes worked hard to make this happen. I’m very happy to be holding this receipt tonight.”
The land, which is rich with wildlife, including white-tail deer, turkey, fox, frogs, and lush with a wide variety of flora and fauna, is located along the southern side of the railroad tracks between Oxford Valley Road and the township complex. It is bordered by the Riverstone Church, Edgewood Elementary and the township complex.
Under the easement, no structures can be built on the land and it cannot be cleared of trees. It can, however, be used for recreational uses, including nature trails.