Photo via Joe Lorusso
Over the past three years, the Malvern Borough, located just a short drive North of West Chester, has had a revitalization plan for its local wildlife reserve, the Randolph Woods, in the works. An area of roughly 38-acres, the comprehensive plan seeks to provide improved spaces for wildlife development and community use, and would entail projects such as hiking trail renovation and improved park accessibility, according to the project’s Master Plan. However one particular aspect, the First Avenue Bike Park, has been under a particularly contentious spotlight.
The First Avenue Bike Park, formerly known as the First Avenue Pump Track, was originally intended to be a constructed dirt track with many hills and bends, a type of track that is designed for dirt biking. According to the Master Plan of the project, the proposed location was on a parcel of land across the street from the Randolph Woods. However, this location — deemed parcel 2–4–316 — already contains nearly an acre of wildlife on it, which would need to be almost entirely clear-cut to proceed with the project.
While the Randolph Woods Nature Preserve has been under an easement by the local Willistown Conservation Trust since 2001 — meaning use of the land is restricted to best preserve the habitat – parcel 2–4–316 is under no such protection, meaning it can be changed in whatever way the Borough sees fit.
The project has since been redesigned and renamed the First Avenue Bike Park. As of the Nov. 1 board meeting, the plan now consists of bike paths created in between the trees in an effort to minimize destruction to wildlife, according to Borough Council President Amy Finkbiner.
According to Finkbiner, the community has suggested that a bike park would be an appreciated addition to the Borough for years. “Members of the community [have] attended meetings asking for safe places for children to ride trail bikes.” said Finkbiner. “Malvern Borough is only 1.3 square miles, and available space for new active recreation projects is limited.”.
Despite these concessions, the project has still sparked some negative feedback, with some citizens expressing concern about a biking area being constructed at the threat of local wildlife.
One such resident of the Malvern Borough, Joe Lorusso was confused by the decision to build the bike park on the land, and felt as though the community interest could be achieved through different means. He believed it wasn’t an “appropriate destruction,” particularly considering that a small population of dirt bikers would make use of it.
“It’s teeming with wildlife. The deer are back there everyday, the rabbits…it’s their habitat,” shared Lorusso. “Why would you clear cut something like that?”
There is reason to believe that allowing biking amongst wildlife has negative effects upon the environment. According to a letter from the Willistown Conservation Trust published in May 2020 as part of the Master Site Plan document, the Trust advised against mountain biking in protected habitats. The letter detailed how constructing mountain bike paths can cause tree and root damage and may contribute to erosion of terrain. For this reason, cycling is not permitted in any domains under easement.
Lorusso attempted to voice his concerns to the Council, eventually creating a website to spread the word. Soon after, he received positive feedback from fellow Malvern residents, who expressed interest in helping his preservation efforts.
The group subsequently formed a volunteer organization, Save Malvern’s Habitat (SMH), late last summer. Under Section 1103 of the Home Rule Charter for the borough of Malvern, adopted in 2008, citizens may organize committees of at least five local residents to write up a citizen’s ordinance to be brought to the Council. Connected by the desire to limit unnecessary destruction to wildlife, they proceeded to seek public support to challenge the project through petition.
Within 17 days, SMH received 322 signatures from residents across the Borough in support of their petition, most of whom lived outside of a 3-block radius of the habitat, according to Lorusso. This number exceeded the required number of 184.
The signatures received were what’s referred to as “wet signatures.” “Wet signatures means that the petitioner actually signed it, on paper, in-person. So we actually engaged with people [and] we talked to them,” Lorusso clarified.
Essentially, the proposed ordinance asked that parcel 2–4–361 be placed under the Willistown Conservation Trust Easement, and thus remain exempt from changes that might harm its wildlife. A copy of the document can be read on SMH’s website.
The petition and ordinance was brought to the Council on Oct. 20, 2022 and received verification as a legitimate petition on Nov. 9.
In the Dec. 6 borough council board meeting, SMH also proposed various alternative locations for the park to the council after performing research on the status of parcel 2–4–361 and what other locations could potentially work for the project. One such outsourcing from the Valley Forge Audubon Society advocated for the parcel’s environmental value considering its observed population of various bird species. One of these alternatives, called “Option B,” is located right across the street from the current location and consists mostly of just grasslands.
This option would hope to better preserve existing wildlife as well as save taxpayers money.
The Council, in response, rejected consideration of Option B, stating that it is “not an appropriate and/or viable location.”
Ultimately, the Borough Council voted on the proposed Ordinance at the Jan. 3, 2023 Council Meeting, settling on a 7–0 decision in opposition to the proposal, according to meeting minutes.
Despite being denied approval by the Council, however, the Ordinance still has a chance of getting passed. Now, it will appear on the May 2023 primary election ballot, giving the residents of Malvern the ultimate ability to decide.
According to Richard Breuer, a lawyer contracted by SMH, this is a historic occurrence. Never before in Malvern Borough’s history has an Ordinance proposed by residents been included on the local ballot.
Since the summer, SMH has been an entirely volunteer-based organization. “This is a true grassroots,” Lorusso said. The committee members have been funding efforts by themselves, but they hope to have a GoFundMe up and running within the coming weeks to try and receive some additional local support.
Running up to the May ballot, SMH has plans to continue spreading the word about their preservation efforts. In the following weeks, they plan to spread posters around the Borough, send mail-outs to residents with information about the habitat and possibly even hand out pamphlets downtown.
“We’re giving it our best shot. You know the old saying you can’t fight city hall, well we’re trying to fight city hall,” says Lorusso.
Olivia Schlinkman is a second-year Political Science major with a minor in Spanish. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Borough 2023 budget- http://www.malvern.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/2023-Approved-Budget-as-of-December-20.2022-by-Borough-Council.pdf
Professional opinions attained by SMH-
Master Plan for Randolph Woods (Letter from Willistown trust advising against biking on page 201-202 and the Willistown Easement) http://www.malvern.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/200923_Final-Randolph-Woods-Nature-Preserve-Master-Plan_WEB.pdf
Malvern Borough Home rule Charter
Nov. 1 presentation by Borough Council
Jan. 3 Board Meeting Minutes
Dec. 6 Board Meeting Minutes