Save the Environment of Moorestown (STEM), a community-based organization dedicated to addressing environmental issues, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.
Founded in 1972 by Barbara Rich, Esther Yanai, Kay Smith and Renee Boulis, STEM has preserved and protected more than 275 acres of land in Moorestown, including South Valley Woods, Strawbridge Lake Park, Waterworks Woods and Stokes Hill.
“Because of the knowledge that Esther Yanai had … she was on the planning board, and we decided that with the potential development of the township, we should be involved in where the development happens and is it a good place or not for development,” Rich said.
As noted by STEM President Mark Pensiero, the goals of an open-space plan are to preserve natural systems, provide better close-to-home recreation and improve the public’s experience moving through the landscape.
“One of STEM’s missions is to protect and enhance these open spaces and we’ve done, over the last couple of years, a lot with the Department of Parks and Recreation,” Pensiero noted.
According to its official website, STEM has maintained the health of Moorestown’s farmland with the development of natural and open-space inventories and establishment of the Natural Area Care (NAC) program, among other efforts.
Last year, STEM worked with volunteers from the First United Methodist Church of Moorestown and students from the township high school’s Outdoor Service Club to install eight elevated walkways, four each at the Esther Yanai Preserve and South Valley Woods. A parking lot was also funded by Yanai’s late husband Steve.
“With the trail enhancements we’ve done, it’s a really nice place and it gets a lot of use,” Pensiero said.
Two of STEM’s biggest projects in 2021 – with volunteer help – were installation of a 1,200-native plant pollinator garden at Swede Run Fields and a collaboration with the township and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to turn 75 acres of land across from the dog park into a meadow of native grasses and pollinator plants.
STEM received a grant from the Xerces Society, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the habitat for pollinating insects in the pollinator garden.
“It really succeeded beyond my wildest expectations,” Pensiero said. “That’s one of our goals, is to educate people about the environment and about the importance of pollinator plants and native plants, and that native plants can be beautiful.”
Among its accomplishments, STEM has marked more than 1,600 storm drains in town to help raise awareness about not disposing of trash in the street.
“We do a lot of things with the township to, in some way, improve the quality of life for Moorestown residents,” Pensiero noted.
He also emphasized the importance of having bigger, preserved open space for wildlife.
“As things get developed, you just have these little pockets of little, tiny woods,” Pensiero explained. “And (a) little, tiny woods isn’t really going to support wildlife (and) birds.”
“STEM, in the future, will still advocate for preserving open space and then taking care of the space we have and making the environment better through just public awareness of native plants and the importance of open space,” he added.
Rich noted STEM accomplishments over the years.
“It took a lot of groundwork to get anything done – going to town council meetings, attending planning board and zoning board hearings – to educate them as much as they educated us,” she said.
“When you show that, ‘Hey, you can do this, you can put a little garden in,’ and if it’s just a handful of people that we’ve encouraged to do that, that’s a plus,” Pensiero said.
For more information on STEM, visit: stemonline.org.