July 26, 2014
By Linda Finarelli, 21st-century Media
Land preservation proponents joined county and municipal officials at the Emlen House in Oreland the evening of July 17 for the dedication of the Piszek Preserve, a 33-acre slice of land bordering both sides of the flood-prone Sandy Run Creek in Upper Dublin and Springfield townships.
The land was a gift to the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association by the estate of Edward J. Piszek, a founder of Mrs. Paul’s Kitchens. The transfer was “a 10-year process,” according to WVWA Director of Development Carol Delancey.
Piszek, who died in 2004, left the land to his five children, who in turn gave it to the Copernicus Society, a foundation he had established, said daughter Helen Piszek Nelson before the dedication. She and her siblings pondered “what could we do for people of this area with this property,” she said.
“It was an incredibly difficult thing to pull off,” Piszek Nelson said of the land transfer. “I would hope government and land preservationists could begin to make the process of preserving land easier.”
While she “wished it could have been the 75 acres of open space in the original plan,” she said, “we are happy it’s happening.”
Addressing the assembled guests, Piszek Nelson said, “We hope you’ll enjoy the beautiful view and the land.”
WVWA board Chairman Rick Collier said there were many to thank, but “especially the Piszek family. Their foresight is what really drove this process.”
Noting the many “twists and turns” along the way, Montgomery County Lands Trust Director of Land Protection Jake Lea agreed, “The Piszeks were the ones who stuck with it.”
“This would not have happened without the generosity of the Piszek family,” Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro said. “On behalf of Montgomery County we can’t thank you enough … for stepping up, so this would be here for future generations.”
Springfield Township Board of Commissioners President Jim Dailey emphasized the “cooperation” needed for the land transfer, and Upper Dublin Commissioner John Minehart noted the township “was proud to be a part of this.”
Concluding the remarks, WVWA Executive Director Dennis Miranda said, “This place belongs to you, enjoy it. Preserved open space is here forever.”
The family and the Copernicus Society searched for a builder for the 94-acre property and worked with the Montgomery County Lands Trust to facilitate the land transfer, Delancey said.
Sal Paone Builders purchased the land and has started building homes on the Springfield side but has yet to submit plans on the Upper Dublin side.
“The family wanted to see as much of the [property] preserved as possible,” Delancey said.
The 33-acre tract “of ecologically and historically significant land” was placed under a conservation easement with the Montgomery County Lands Trust at the end of May 2013, according to the MCLT website.
Now owned and under the care of the WVWA, the land is protected from future development in perpetuity and will soon be accessible to the public via informal hiking trails “with views of the Emlen House — a private 18th century estate that served as Gen. George Washington’s headquarters during the winter of 1777 … and also hosted human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Lech Walensa and Pope John Paul II,” the website notes.
It was the home of the Piszeks for 50 years, Piszek Nelson said.
The WVWA now has full ownership “and will make it [the 33 acres] into a preserve,” Delancey said. “Our goal is to preserve the most environmentally sensitive area of the land surrounding the Sandy Run.”
The WVWA will restore the streambank’s more than 1,000 feet of riparian buffer that will help reduce flooding by storing groundwater by removing invasive species and planting native plants, Delancey said. While that process will take a couple of years, a trail, signage and small parking area may be completed by the fall, she said.
Springfield and Upper Dublin townships provided changes in their zoning requirements to allow for conservation design, the MCLT website says, and provided some additional funding in support of the project.