The Sierra Club, the oldest and largest environmental organization in the world, has hired a full-time staff member to coordinate its efforts in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding region.
Rachel Rosenfeld is leading volunteer recruiting as well as the organization’s ongoing monitoring of water quality in the creeks, streams and rivers of the Delaware River Watershed, which includes the Little Lehigh and Lehigh rivers and the Monocacy Creek, organization officials said.
She will work out of an office cubicle at Illick’s Mill in Bethlehem, which City Council last week agreed to lease to the Sierra Club for $200 a month.
The Appalachian Mountain Club, a group that combines outdoor recreation with environmental activism, also leases space at the historic mill for its Mid-Atlantic Conservation Office.
The two organizations often work together, according to Don Miles, chairman of the Sierra Club Lehigh Valley Group.
“I can’t imagine a better place for an environmental club to have an office,” Miles said.
The 19th century mill that sits on the Monocacy Creek has in recent years become a hub of activity for local environmentalists. The city’s Environmental Advisory Council also meets there.
A recent surge in membership and donations has enabled the Sierra Club to hire more staff to help it accomplish its goals, Miles said.
Statewide membership in the Sierra Club has climbed from 27,000 to 33,000 people and Lehigh Valley membership has increased from 1,700 to 2,200 since the 2016 election, said Miles, who was careful to point out that the Sierra Club is a non-political organization.
Miles sits on the board of the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter, which is one of 62 chapters nationwide.
The Lehigh Valley Group, which includes Lehigh, Northampton, Monroe and Carbon counties, is the fourth largest of nine regional groups inside that chapter, Miles said.
The numerous environmental challenges the group is focusing on include the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline and the proposed sewage sludge treatment plant in Plainfield Township.
The increase to staff will allow us to coordinate things and get more things done,” Miles said. “We’re now all volunteers. Having an employee here that is full-time to keep us on the straight and narrow will be great.”
Hired in April, Rosenfeld has begun reaching out to the community by scheduling water quality education sessions and discussions at local microbreweries. The next will be at the Two Rivers Brewing Co. in Easton on Aug. 2.
“It’s important to have good, clean water to have good beer,” Rosenfeld laughed, explaining why she has chosen to have these sessions at microbreweries. Two Rivers is a particularly good location, she added, because it sits at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers.
The Delaware River Watershed provides drinking water to 15 million people and ensuring that it continues to be a source of safe, high-quality water is central to the Sierra Club’s aims, Rosenfeld said.
That means monitoring industrial development along the two rivers, fighting to maintain the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing inside the watershed and pushing for an outright ban on the natural gas mining practice also known as fracking, she said. It also will mean pushing back against any federal administration efforts to repeal clean water rules for tributaries and streams.
“Monocacy Creek and the Little Lehigh are high quality, exceptional value streams that are really valuable to the people who live there, especially fishermen,” Rosenfeld said.
She said she also plans to talk to local members about the things that most concern them and help them to have a stronger voice with local and state elected officials around those issues.
Rosenfeld, 29, was formerly the administrative and operations assistant for the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association, a nonprofit that works to protect the quality and beauty of the Wissahickon Creek in her native Montgomery County.