Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Historic Colebrookdale Railroad Project Not So Secret Anymore

Could Boyertown soon have a new train station?
BOYERTOWN -- You can add Boyertown Borough to the list of places that support the proposal to run an historic tourist train on the old Colebrookdale Railroad line between Pottstown and Boyertown.

The tentative name for the line is The Secret Valley Railroad.

Nathaniel Guest, the Pottsgrove native who is heading up the effort, recently asked Boyertown Borough Council to consider looking into using a grant to study the possibility of making a station part of a downtown plan.

The borough has a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to plan a parking lot on borough property by the rail yard at East Third and Washington streets where the rail line ends.

The plans included a 20,000 square-foot building, for which a community center, library and home for the historical society are being considered.
The Colebrookdale Line entering downtown Boyertown.

Guest made a presentation to borough council, which agreed to ask DCED if the funds also could be used to study the property to include whether a station of some sort might be located and DCED agreed.

The group and the borough are waiting for DCED to grant a time extension on the grant so the borough can consider final action on the study.

If you would like to know more about the project, a presentation by the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust will be held tonight at the Boyertown Historical Society, 43 Chestnut St. in Boyertown, at 7 p.m.

According to it's web site, the CRPT is "a non-profit organization dedicated to establishing an on-going tourist passenger operation on the Colebrookdale Railroad. The Trust will assist the line's designated operator, the Eastern Berks Gateway Railroad, and the line's owner, Berks County, to restore and enhance this remarkable resource for the benefit of the people of Southeastern Pennsylvania now and into the future."

Berks County purchased the 8.6-mile line in 2009 for $1.35 million.

Primarily now a freight line, the CRPT wants to establish an historic tourist line much like lines in New Hope and Strasburg.

The idea has drawn enthusiastic support from a wide variety of entities.

One of several scenic bridges along the Colebrookdale line
They include: Pottstown Borough, the Pottstown School District, the Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Planning Committee, the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area, the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape Initiative, the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles, the Reading Company Technical and Historical Society, the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority, the Greater Reading Convention and visitors Bureau, the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce. Building a Better Boyertown to name a few.

The CRPT has a web site here with more information, including a draft prospectus of the project.

Below is a YouTube video produced to introduce people to the Colebrookdale Line and how it could become a tourist attraction.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wednesday Program Aims to Aid Vets and their Families

Blogger's Note: Taken from a posting on the Montgomery County Community College web site.

MCCC's Pottstown Campus, South Hall
POTTSTOWN -- The Montgomery County Community College campus in Pottstown will host an important program Wednesday for veterans and their families.

The Student Support and Referral Team, in partnership with the Montgomery County Vet Center, will present a program, “Stressors Affecting Veterans and Their Loved Ones and the Resources Available to Them.” at 7 p.m. 

Allison Stanco, MS, LPC, a Vet Center Readjustment Counseling Therapist and Bradley Herron, Vet Center Outreach Worker, will be the speakers.

Mr. Herron, who is also an Iraq/Afghanistan veteran and MCCC grad, will discuss his military experiences and the resources provided by the Vet Center.

Ms. Stanco will talk about post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma.

A question and answer period will conclude the program.

Free and open to the public, the program will be held in the Community Room of South Hall located at 101 College Dr. in Pottstown.

Registration begins at 6:30 p.m. and the program will start at 7 p.m.  For more information contact Michael Ondo, Counselor/Advisor at

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pottstown's Most Honorable Students

Blogger's Note: Below is a press release from the Pottstown School District. Full disclosure, I post this as is and my son's name appears among those inducted (he said with no small twinge of pride.)

Recently the Pottstown Middle School held induction ceremonies for new members to the National Junior Honor Society.  The candle lighting induction ceremony was conducted at a school-wide assembly which was attended by school district administrators, school board members, and parents of the inductees.  
The National Junior Honor Society is sponsored by Ms. Lois Sanders who also organized the candle lighting induction program.  Dr. Reed D. Lindley, Superintendent of Schools was the keynote speaker and encouraged students to achieve academic success and to use it as a foundation for accomplishing their adult goals. 
Middle school jazz band, under the direction of Mr. Ben Hayes, provided entertainment for the program.
            Students participating in the candle lighting ceremony were:  Brittany Bosko, Michael Stilwell, Kelly O’Donnell, Conor Benfield, Kendra Andrews, Matt Creasy, Destiny Willis, and Jake Fetterman.
            Honor Society member Seth Thomas led the inductees in the Honor Society Pledge.  Maxine Bacon provided a poem reading.
Requirements for membership include that a student must obtain a minimum grade point average of 91% during their sixth and seventh grade years and maintain that average.  Additionally, they must complete an application that includes obtaining character references from community and staff members.  They must also promise to maintain the high standards of National Honor Society and serve their school and community by participating in various service projects throughout the year.
Under the direction of Miss Sanders, the students work to maintain high standards of academic achievement and community service.  Their participation helps to keep them focused from an early age on the goals of high academic achievement.  Students who actively pursue academic excellence increase their chances of success in adult life. 
The Pottstown School District is proud to have a local chapter of a prestigious organization such as the National Honor Society and a coordinator who work tirelessly to provide opportunity for students to gain an appreciation and value for education.  This year’s inductees included:
Ashley Adams
Dylan Brandt
Chris Brown
Ziarra Caballero
Katie Campbell
Xavier Campbell
Yuliza Cruz
Soaad Elbahwati
Emily Greiss
Emily Iezzi
Khaleah Jeter
Khalif Jeter
Janna Jones
Sara Levengood
Racheal Levengood
Alivia Lopez
Carlos Lopez
Megan Mace
Alexis Martin
Kyli McKee
Casey Mest
Autumn Motto
Bryan Nussbaumer
Daniel O’Brien
Angelique Olvera
Kenil Patel
Esperanza Perez
Mya Pope
Nyles Rome
Austin Scavello
Cole Sellers
MaSofia Sosa
Chris Stone
Heather Swanson
Riordon Turner
Seth Vogt

Sunday, March 4, 2012

They'll Give You the Food on Your Back

When most people think of a food pantry, they think of a place they go to get food.

Lisa Heverly loads backpacks loaded with food
But at least one program that is growing in Pottstown schools brings the food to you -- or at least to the students.

Called Operation Backpack, the program began last year at Barth Elementary School, providing backpacks full of food for 20 needy children to bring home to eat over the weekend.

Since then it has expanded to all five Pottstown elementary schools, said Lisa Heverly, the director of the program, which is sponsored by True to Life Ministries.

"We're now sending food home with 85 children each week. We have 20 students each at Barth and Rupert, 19 at Lincoln, 18 at Edgewood and eight at Franklin," Heverly said.

Food and funds are donated and the food is stored at a cold storage facility at Watchdog Storage on Berks Street, where the organization is charged only for its electricity use.

On Wednesday evenings, a group of volunteers, including a local basketball team and a youth group, gathers there and packs up the food into the 85 backpacks, which are then brought to the schools Thursday morning.

It's not hard to understand why the program has expanded so quickly.

"There's a real need in the school district, they almost 75 percent of the students on free-or-reduced lunch, and once the principals started talking to each other they contacted us," said Heverly.

Full backpacks ready to go home with kids
"Over at Lincoln they were super-excited when we started there," she said.

The students are referred to the program by school personnel. "They have criteria they use, primarily if kids come in to school on Monday and go to the nurse and say they don't feel well, or they feel hungry," Heverly explained.

Despite the rapid growth, Heverly said her group would like to go more.

"We would love to get into the middle school and the high school, we know there is a need there," she said.

There is a particular need that Operation Backpack has as well. They food they send home has to be non-perishable and has to be small enough and simple enough that the children can make it for themselves.

"We try to make it easy things that don't require cooking, or that they can just pop the top and stick it in the microwave," said Heverly.

These are among the things needed
Here is a list of what they need (in addition to money) as well as non-endorsed examples to make your shopping easier:
  • tuna-to-go (like Starkist lunch to go);
  • mac and cheese (like Chef Boyardee -- 7.5 oz. or 14.25 oz.);
  • apple sauce (like Motts package of six 4 oz. cups);
  • spaghettios/ravioli (like Chef Boyardee again);
  • vegetable beef soup (like Campell's To Go 14.5 oz. package);
  • chicken and dumplings (see above);
  • chicken noodle soup (and again);
  • fruit cups (Dole Tropical Fruit in Juice, four 4 oz. cups);
  • granola or fruit bars( Quaker's chewy or Nutrigrain);
  • Pop-tarts (Need I really identify this for you all?);
  • goldfish (crackers not actual fish people .. pkg of nine 1 oz. bags);
  • water (12 16 oz. bottles);
  • Gatorade (same as above0;
  • pudding (Jell-O pudding snacks, package of six)
If you have purchased any of these, or similar items, and would like to arrange the donation, you can call Heverly at 484-942-4441 to make arrangements.

In addition to needing the food, Operation Backpack is also in need of a permanent drop-off point to make it easier for people to donate. Locations will to host a drop off should e-mail her at or call Heverly at the number above.

Pottstown's Riverfront Park
If you would like to more than just write a check to help raise money, Operation Backpack is holding its Third Annual Operation Backpack 5-K run fun walk in Riverfront Park on April 14. You can register here or at the web site: and if you register before April 1 you get a free t-shirt.

Medals are given by gender and age group for the race. The course is fast, so it is not unusual to have many personal bests on race day. The event is walker friendly, both in the 5K and 1 mile, but it is also a great race for competitive runners.

This just another place you can help the needy during our food drive, through the season of Lent.

Our goal is to collect 20,000 food items and 1,000 containers of laundry detergent by the Passover-Easter weekend April 7-8. The laundry detergent goal is a separate drive inspired by what food pantry operators describe as an urgent request from families.

Mercury Editor Nancy March, right, explains the food drive.
This food collection effort goes beyond one community.

While Pottstown and the Cluster Outreach Center run by the Pottstown Area Cluster of Religious Communities is one food pantry that will benefit, so will the North Coventry Food Pantry and sites in Boyertown, Phoenixville, Royersford and Spring City. The effort involves a partnership of The Mercury and the community-based bloggers on Town Square, a network featured at

Bloggers will highlight and promote food collection efforts (like I did just now) in their various communities. The Mercury will also serve as a central collection site and will aid with the distribution and counting of food items.

This is our Community Media Lab that we want to fill with food
The goal will be to “fill the media lab,” which involves using social media to “pin” photos of food items collected onto a photo of our Community Media Lab space. The virtual filling of the room will coincide with counting of items as they are delivered to area food pantries.

In the short time since the effort was announced, churches, businesses and clubs have come forward offering to help and making us aware of collection efforts.

And here is a map put together of all the places that have so far offered to serve as drop-off centers:


And in case you haven't noticed, I'm not the first person to write about this drive.

On Monday,  Mercury Reporter extraordinaire Brandie Kessler, who came up with the whole idea, kicked it off with this story in the newspaper and on our web site.

The same day, boss lady March posted this entry about the effort on her blog, From the Editor's Desk.

Sue Repko, over at Positively Pottstown, kicked off the promotion on our Town Square blogger's site with this post about lining up Grumpy's Sandwiches as a drop-off site.
Alan MacBain's GREAT cartoon on this project

On Wednesday, Kessler, wrote this story for the paper about how great the response has been so far.

Not to be outdone, Mercury Editor Nancy March wrote this editorial for the same day's edition.

On the same day, the Tail of 2 Dogs blog posted this entry about recruiting four drop-off locations, and again on Thursday, posted this entry about two locations agreeing to be drop-off centers.

On March 1, Heather Tyrell, editor of our sister paper, The Phoenix reported on Project Outreach, a food pantry in Royersford and Spring City that is helping needy families.

And on March 2, blogger Laura Catalano joined the fray, with this post in her 52 Ways to Wake Up a Week blog helping raise awareness about the needs at the North Coventry Food Pantry.

The same day, March blogged again about donations coming from near and far, even as far away as Ohio.

If you have suggestions about other places that need help, or other ways help can be provided, or know of other efforts to help feed our neighbors, drop us a line here or at The Mercury and let us know.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Cold-Blooded Signs of Spring

John Strickler's Mercury photos from the 2009 migration
So I need not tell you that given the near total absence of winter weather this year, it may be hard to figure out when spring gets here.

After all, the daffodils in my yard started breaking the surface in February and the birds are already trying to rebuild their nest in my front door transom.

But one group of people who know when spring has definitely arrived usually make that determination when standing on the side of the road on a dark, wet night in the woods of western North Coventry near French Creek State Park.

They are there to help their cold-blooded amphibian friends -- wood frogs, spring peepers, spotted salamanders and, more particularly Jefferson salamanders -- across the unlit road to a particular vernal pool.

As I wrote in 2009 when reporting on this story for The Mercury, "it is the conditions and not the calendar which dictate when this migration occurs."

The migrating salamanders can be hard to see at night
"It has to be above freezing and damp and rainy for the salamanders, and the wood frogs who favor the same conditions, to make the short but perilous journey,"

And it turns out, that the conditions conspired with the calendar to make sure irony had a hand in this year's migration which began, on all days, "LEAP DAY!"

According to Kim White, the volunteer who coordinates the road crossing patrol and keeps a close eye on weather conditions at this time of year, that was the day the leaping began.

"Leap Day certainly had the right name because we saw a lot of leaping Wednesday night," White wrote to those on her "amphibian friends" e-mail list.

"The migration started slow (just like the rain) and then momentum picked up and there was a steady stream until we called it a night a 10:30. Luckily there wasn't many vehicles. Thank you to the die-hard volunteers who did come out. They had their hands full (literally with slimy friends). Here are the tallies:

Spotted Salamanders 161
Jefferson Salamanders 6
Wood Frogs 80 
Spring Peepers 3

"Sadly, we did have 6 spotted, and 6 wood frog casualties. 

"Last night we heard the wood frogs singing for the first time. Spring has come early here!

Kim White, right, with volunteers in 2009
The conditions have to be right for the migration to begin. 

It has to be above freezing and damp and rainy for the salamanders, and the wood frogs who favor the same conditions, to make the short but perilous journey.

What makes the journey perilous is traffic.

To avoid predators, the salamanders and frogs typically choose a dark night to make their journey, but that also makes them nearly invisible to drivers on the unlit roads.

And that's why they need a little help from the same species that poses the greatest threat.

The volunteers, who wear luminescent safety vests and, in some cases, head lamps, are not allowed to stop traffic on the one country road involved, although the township does allow the stopping of traffic on the other.  

A vernal pool appears only in spring with no egg-eating fish
When they see a car coming, White instructs them to "scoop up as many salamanders and frogs as you can, put them in a bucket and move them to the side of the road that most of them seemed to be going."

They're going both ways because some are on the their way to the pool to spawn, and others are finished.

The pool in question is called a "vernal pool" because it appears in the spring and by late summer, it has dried up.

It is on White's property and she said she and her family intend to ensure that it is preserved in perpetuity.

Wood frogs literally freeze in winter
"They need the vernal pool because it dries up so there are no fish in it to eat the eggs," White told me last year. 

So where have they been when they're not spawning in the pool? Well the wood frogs were literally frozen solid during the winter.

"The wood frogs actually freeze, and the scientists are still trying to figure out how they do that," said White in 2009. The salamanders spend the winder in abandoned burrows, usually made by small mammals.

Among the salamander species using the pool is the Jefferson salamander, an endangered species.

The Jefferson blue spotted salamander, endangered and living in North Coventry
"The herpetologists said this the place nearest Philadelphia that they still spawn," White said. "Between here and the city, they're all gone."
As the season begins, White is still on the job.

"I am watching the weather for tonight and hoping the rain holds off until late so our friends can cross without traffic," she wrote in her e-mail Friday.

If you would like to volunteer to help the frogs and salamanders cross the road, you can contact White via e-mail at

Friday, March 2, 2012

Green Light for Upcoming Green Lane Nature Programs

Canvasback duck
Blogger's Note: The following is culled from two press releases from Montgomery County regarding events at the county's Green Lane Park, about 20 minutes from Pottstown.

The park consists of over 3400 acres and three bodies of water totaling 870 acres.

Montgomery County’s Green Lane Park will hold a “Waterfowl Watch” program at the park on Saturday March 3 at 1 p.m. This is a free program, but pre-registration is required.
Tundra Swan

Spring migration of ducks, geese, swans, and other early migrants should be well underway, and the program will give everyone a close up look at the migrants and the migration at Green Lane Park.

Participants in years past have seen 24 species of waterfowl, including Greater White-fronted Geese, Tundra Swans, Canvasbacks, and many more. Binoculars will enhance the experience if you have them.

Green Lane Park has been designated a Pennsylvania “Important Bird Area” by Pennsylvania Audubon. It is one of only 81 such areas in the commonwealth to earn that distinction.

Everyone is urged to meet at the tennis court parking lot at Green Lane Park. Everyone will caravan by car to 2 or 3 other “hotspots” for birding.

To pre-register, call 215-234-4528.            
* * *

Goodies from a previous sugaring program at Green Lane
Montgomery County’s Parks and Heritage Services Department has announced its annual “Maple Sugar Magic” program at Green Lane Park Saturday, March 10 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m..

Parks and Heritage Services educators and volunteers will demonstrate the centuries-old process of making maple syrup and sugar from the sap of maple trees. 

Maple sugaring is a uniquely North American tradition dating back to the 1500’s, and has a prominent place in Native American and early American folklore. 

 Witness the tapping of a maple tree, the boiling process at our evaporator, and learn about the tradition of the “sugaring off” party. Participants will also be able to compare the taste of real maple syrup with commercial pancake syrup.

Maple sap is collected in spring and boiled to make syrup
“This is an ideal family outing,” said Josh Shapiro, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. “Help us celebrate our 24rd year of maple sugaring in the park, as our park staff take you through the process from ‘tree to table’.”

The program is offered free of charge, and is appropriate for all ages. Demonstrations will begin promptly at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Scouts and other organized groups are welcome, but call 215-234-4528 first.

The program will be held at the Hill Road Day Use Area, 2821 Hill Road, Green Lane.

For more information on either program, contact Kevin Crilley, environmental education specialist, at 215-234-4528, or email him at

Green Lane is one of Montgomery County's seven major parks.

Visitors can enjoy fishing, boating (including boat rentals), family and group camping, picnicking, 25 miles of trails for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking, as well as two children's playgrounds.

Activities include:

Boating - The Hill Road Day Use Area on the Reservoir and Deep Creek Lake have boat rentals. Private boat racks are available at the Walt Road Day Use Area and Deep Creek Lake. See link below for boat rental rates.

Camping - The Deep Creek Lake area offers overnight campsites for family camping and the many recreational facilities such as two tennis courts, two playgrounds and an enclosed pavilion.

Recreation - Recreational activity sites within the park offer a variety of uses. These sites have grills, large picnic areas, fishing and many open fields for a variety of active sports. Wintertime sees the heartier sports of ice skating, cross-country skiing, sledding and ice fishing.

Trails - There are several miles of nature trails that attract hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians to enjoy the natural beauty of the seasons.

Leashed pets are welcome in the park but are restricted from entering any of the creeks or lake waters.

Links to a schedule of summer events, downloadable maps and how to book camping sites and boating trips can all be found at the park's page here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Beauty" Is in the Eye of the Beholder

The Pottsgrove Middle School will present “Beauty and the Beast” starting tonight at 7 p.m. and running through Saturday, March 3.

The show, which costs $5 to see, includes  70 – 6th, 7th and 8th graders in cast and crew. 

 The musical is under the direction of Tom Yenchick, producer, Carole Bean, musical director, and Cherie Fithian, choreographer. 

 An eight-piece pit orchestra will be used to accompany the musical.

 For those of you who don't know the story, here is a synopsis provided by Principal William Ziegler, who also kindly provided the photos.:

After a handsome but conceited prince treats a beggar woman poorly, the woman turns out to be a beautiful enchantress and turns the prince into a beast. 

Further, the prince's staff is all transformed into objects to do with their profession. 

The prince is given a magical mirror to view the outside world. To break the spell, he needs to learn to love a person for who they are, and get her to love him before a magical rose loses its petals. 

Meanwhile, in a nearby village, a beautiful young book fan by the name of Belle feels lonely and out of place. She lives with her eccentric but kind father, Maurice. 

Soon, Maurice goes off to compete at an inventors' fair but gets lost in the woods and ends up a prisoner at the Beast's castle. 

Belle eventually finds the castle and makes a deal with the Beast to let her father go in return for her staying there with him. 

As the Beast's inner kindness slowly reveals itself, Belle grows in love with him. 

However, a jilted, self-centered suitor from Belle's village, Gaston, takes a posse to "save" her from the Beast. 

Will the Beast survive and win Belle’s love?

Go to the show and find out!

Pottsgrove Middle School is located  at 1351 N. Hanover St. on top of the hill overlooking the district.

Got Milk? Umar Does

Blogger's Note: It's another submission from the Rupert Elementary School News Factory. What are they putting in the milk over there?

Umar's Award-Winning Poster. Way to go Umar!
Recently Rupert Elementary School first grade student Umar Annable was recognized as the second place award winner in the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association Poster Contest.   
The contest was open to students from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland.  Umar became one of 130 finalists from 20 school districts representing 47 different schools.   

His poster picture, along with other finalists’, will be incorporated into the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association’s calendar for the 2013 year.   

Replicas of posters will also be used at various schools to help promote the value of drinking milk. 
 Kim Holsonback, Pottstown School District Director of Food Services, was proud of the accomplishments of the Rupert students in participating in the event and emphasized that the dairy association attempts to motivate students to think about the nutritional value of drinking milk.   

“We want students to be aware that there are choices and encourage them to think about making good choices that will benefit their overall health.  The poster contest was a learning experience that involved reading and thinking.  Art is a natural expressive and pure form of creating," she said. " This also was a learning experience for the students.”