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Covenant upheld so promised land along Schuylkill River in Berks to remain ‘hidden gem’ [Opinion]

Almost anyone who has been to an event at Jim Dietrich Park in Muhlenberg Township will attest to what a treasure that piece of ground along the Schuylkill River is to the community.

The 109-acre park has been called a hidden gem in Berks County, but I’m not sure it’s such a secret anymore. Jim Dietrich has become a popular spot for an array of groups to hold events.

In December, Jim Dietrch was included in Pennsylvania’s Great Public Spaces by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Muhlenberg Township officials were naturally proud of their achievement in attaining that honor, and rightly so. From the beginning, they’ve made the space accessible to all, when they could have put up signs restricting its use to township residents.

On June 24, Muhlenberg Township Arts Board kicks off its Friday night Summer Concert Series with a performance by Brass Pockets. Bands perform on the stage downhill from the farmhouse, with the flowing green river as the background for musicians.

The park on Stoudts Ferry Bridge Road was originally a working farm where Faye and Doug Dietrich lived with their son, Jim. While the land was a working farm, they had an apple and peach orchard and grew and sold corn to many people who would drive down their dirt lane.

The township entered into an agreement of sale with Faye Dietrich in December 1997 to buy the property for $1.2 million. In 1997, Faye Dietrich made a deal — a covenant — for the township to buy the land and pay for it in increments while she continued to live there.

Faye and Doug Dietrich wanted the land developed for recreation in honor of Jim, their only son, who died in an industrial accident at age 19. Faye and Doug have since passed away, but their legacy endures.

If my column were to end here, I would mention the two other noteworthy events hosted by Muhlenberg Township Parks & Recreation Department at Jim Dietrich: Monday’s Memorial Day service at 9 a.m., and the township’s annual RiverFest, Aug. 26-28.

But a good script needs conflict — an antagonist.

That covenant I mentioned earlier? Someone tried real hard recently to break it.

Turns out there was gold discovered under that land. Not gold, per se, but another valuable resource: an aquifer prime for well-drilling.

As reported last week by Reading Eagle reporter Keith Domochowski, the township commissioners deliberated over a proposal by the township water authority to put a municipal well in the middle of Jim Dietrich to supplement the other nine wells that supply drinking water.

The crux of the debate was whether allowing a well would violate the covenant with the Dietrich family.

The well would produce up to 2 million gallons of water per day, but would mean about 8 acres of surrounding parkland could only be used for purposes linked to the production of water under state rules.

The affected land hosts a dog park that would’ve been moved to another area had the well been approved.

However you define the word covenant, it’s pretty clear that, at its core, it means two parties agree to something in good faith. The accord is meant to endure in perpetuity, especially if one of the parties can no longer consent to amending it.

The Old Testament tells us that after rescuing the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, God promised to bless them with land and dwell in their midst, bringing defeat to their enemies, as long as they kept his commandments given at Mount Sinai. When the Israelites failed to keep his commandment, God allowed their enemies to defeat his people who were scattered among foreign lands.

Fortunately, the majority of the commissioners held firm to their promise made by their predecessors.

“I understand we need water,” board President Michael Malinowski said. “But to break a promise … it’s more important to me that we as a community live up to our obligations and promises.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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