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Four Weeks with the LandHealth Institute – Protecting Nature in Philadelphia

From 22 July to 16 August 2022, I spent nearly four weeks working with the LandHealth Institute, an environmental non-profit based in Philadelphia, PA. This was part of my professional development experience under the State Department-funded Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The work was a perfect fit with my work back in Zimbabwe where I work with the environmental law non-profit, Advocates4Earth, and the climate fintech start-up, MyGreenFund.

These are some of my highlights during the experience.

The LandHealth nursery

LandHealth Institute runs an impressive nursery filled with native plants from around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The nursery is also the focal point of some meetings with young people who spend their summer learning more about nature and being conscious of the environment around their city. We managed to work with young people from various organizations in nature walks and plant management.

Kayaking and WonderWalks

The other activities by LandHealth Institute consisted of bringing people to be more aware of their environment via WonderWalks and outdoor activities. I participated in some of the Nature Walks, WonderWalks, and kayaking activities that were organized for the months of July and August. These were in the evenings as the United States’ sun was unbearable during the day (Maybe global warming!). The WonderWalk took place on Pier 68 and the nature walks in the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge just behind Philadelphia’s International Airport. The John Heinz area is regarded as a wetland and contains a range of species from shore birds to the invasive Northern Snakehead fish. Locals can fish and walk around the park, free of charge. (A word of caution: it is considered a federal offense for people fishing within the boundaries of the John Heinz refuge to release Northern Snakeheads back into refuge waters!). We also did some kayaking on Darby Creek.

FDR Park

My work also involved developing a legal opinion to determine legal actions to be undertaken by LandHealth Institute and fraternal organizations and communities towards the protection of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in Philadelphia, PA. The park’s natural environment and wetlands are threatened by the planned development of Sporting Facilities by the City of Philadelphia as part of the FDR Park Plan. This is mostly in anticipation of the World Cup 2026 where some matches are scheduled for the nearby Lincoln Financial Field. This document set out an opinion on certain matters of environmental law at the date of writing and as applied by the state and federal courts in Pennsylvania, USA.

We made a physical visit at FDR park on the 1st of August 2022 and observed the park and its environs. Further to the visit, we researched and realized that FDR Park is part of the National Wetlands Inventory. Part of the park is classified as “Freshwater Emergent Wetland” and as “Freshwater Ponds”. It needs protection. It is one of the campaigns I would be keeping an eye on as local organizations fight to preserve the park.

The four weeks at LandHealth Institute were worth it. I got to learn more about the environmental movement in the United States and a bit about local laws and actions to protect nature, especially wetlands threatened by human development. As I go back to Zimbabwe, I will take back some of the key lessons, especially about bringing environmental awareness to urban folks and the youth.


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