When I wrote the introduction to Conserving Mount Nittany, I wrote about a woods without a name near where I grew up:
“Ours was a typical suburban neighborhood, but there was a woods across the street from our home. As far as I know it had no name. I spent countless hours over late mornings, afternoons, and evenings in the final moments before the era of continuous communication alone under the trees. The light casting shadows at odd angles and the creative mind of my childhood-self supplying adventures that in spirit carried me far from the physical scene.”
Another little place with a woods existed nearby, maybe a ten minute walk. I think it used to be called the Hart School, but by the time I came onto the scene it had become the WREC—Warminster Recreation & Education Center. It was one of those places where dozens of neighborhood kids went to hang out on summer afternoons. Playing basketball, maybe. Attending a summer camp of some kind. Playing or riding bikes or loitering. A barely managed and unstructured place where a childhood took shape. It worked, and my own childhood would’ve been poorer without it. Like a release valve in bad times, and a Central Park in miniature for kids who’ve never been.
The WREC has been torn down, and in its place will go dozens of new homes that will be out of character with the wider neighborhood, which is one of those with its roads and trails connecting to other places, rather than merely a self-contained contemporary plot that connects to nothing. It was much more than a building to me, and I wish the town had thought more creatively about how that space could have been redeveloped while serving the same purpose of providing a common place for neighbors of all ages. Before it was destroyed in October I went for a final visit, walking from the WREC’s entrance down past the woods and across Little Neshaminy Creek:
It was a great, if increasingly decrepit, place. It was a part of the neighborhoods around it, and connected them in the way good public spaces do. What the township offers in its place is a managed park, a former Army base, miles away. It will require kids to be driven, which means it will be a scheduled event, which means it offers nothing of the character of the WREC that’s been replaced, which is a tragedy in miniature for the generations to come in the place I grew up.