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Archive for May 2017

Exploring FDR Park

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One massive donger: The Liberty Bell entrance of the Sesqui Expo

A good many things existing in Philadelphia came to be in 1926, thanks to the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, a large fair held in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence. Much like its predecessor celebrating 100 years of throwing off the British yoke, the 1876 Centennial Exposition, both left their mark on Philadelphia’s landscape in its ornate, structurally unique (for their time) buildings and parks.

One such park is FDR Park, once part of a large tract of south Philadelphia land known as League Island Park. While its dominated today by sports stadiums, the park’s 80-foot, illuminated replica of the Liberty Bell must have been quite an impressive sight for fair goers. Among some other notable legacies from the fair still around today are the 11,000-pipe Curtis Organ — now in the University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium — and The Fountain of the Seahorses, a gift from our good chum Benito Mussolini and which now sits behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Russian Tea House overlooking Meadow Lake was among other points of interest during the Exposition, including some delightfully named pavilions like Persia, Public Welfare, and Nuremberg.

But before the Sesqui, before the Centennial International Exhibition, before the signing of the Declaration and all the hullabaloo leading up to it, and before the settlement of the Swedes, the area appears to have been mostly underwater.

From the Philadelphia Water Department:

“The entire “Neck” (as South Philadelphia was once known) historically encompassed thousands of acres of tidal marsh, and was therefore a single drainage area…Much of the area remained marshy until the 20th century; one major filling project was undertaken to make land for the Sesquicentennial Exposition, held at League Island Park in 1926.”

A diversity of freshwater plants and wildlife and 12,000 years of Lenape inhabitance in these marshy lands was broken up by the property divisions among the sworn subjects of Penn, the diking and draining and filling of the estuaries, and the deforestation and transformation of marshes to meadows.

Tennis, children of the corn style

A swimming pool came and went (and swimming has now been banned in Meadow Lake), “picturesque” structures were built and remained behind from the Exposition, and an interstate rose over the lower portion of the park, the noise from which is the loudest I’ve ever heard standing underneath in the abandoned, derelict tennis courts.

Since the late 90s, however, and possibly stemming from (or at least influenced by) a very excellent and thorough plan (if you’re into this kind of thing) put together by the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, the Natural Lands Restoration and Environmental Education Program, and the Philadelphia Water Department, the park has seen a comeback of native species.

“[The marshes] have been shown to support diverse plants and animals including Heteranthera multiflora and Echinochloa walteri, two endangered wetland species in Pennsylvania.” There are also thriving cattail (Typha latifolia) populations thriving in the park.

The amazingly named Red-Bellied Cooter, who popped out to say hello during my exploring

Efforts have been made to remove purple loosestrife, and, while I did spot a troubling amount of mile-a-minute, I didn’t spot a stalk of Japanese knotweed, previously known to be a nasty invasive in the park. The above-mentioned trifecta’s plan called for some thought-provoking if not difficult means of complete park restoration:

*Foresting of uplands: open fields may present an opportunity for invasives/exotics like my favorite edible, garlic mustard. Foresting will also help prevent erosion and flooding, already a problem in a city of pavement and overflowing sewers.

“Areas which are not presently used for recreation, but are being mowed could be managed as meadows by mowing infrequently and possibly burning the area to promote plant diversity. Replanting of these areas is also recommended to establish native species and deter exotic species.”

Who’s ready for a swim?

*Well-managed edge habitats: Edge habitats, or the line along forest edges, are a playground for non-natives such as tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), and wild rose (Rosa multiflora). Managing these and eradicating such edge-advantageous species may help maintain the park’s diversity.

The master plan is packed full of other fascinating insights into water composition, quality, and management, but I didn’t read these because I had to pee.

 

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Exploring Bartram’s Mile & Beyond

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City skyscrapers seen from the new expansion, Bartram’s Mile

For the past year, I’ve been biking to Bartram’s Garden nearly every week or every other week, taking Washington Avenue to Gray’s Ferry Avenue, the bridge along which crosses the Schuylkill River and takes you into West Philadelphia. Immediately after crossing the nail- and bolts-strewn bridge, the road briefly connects to Woodland Avenue via a dangerous, somehow-rhomboid intersection. A sharp turn onto 49th which suddenly becomes another apostropheless Grays Avenue around a curve and a slight left onto Lindbergh Boulevard after a nail-/bolts-/garbage-strewn uphill stretch will take you to

Monument dedicated to the Newkirk Viaduct

the entrance of Bartram’s Garden.

It’s not ideal, nor very picturesque, so I couldn’t be happier when they unveiled the new Bartram’s Mile over a week ago. The new expansion eliminates a portion of the usual route and runs along the west-side of the river, abruptly ending below the Grays Ferry Bridge.

Paulownia trees, with their tuberous, brilliant purple flowers, line the trail that leads up to the Newkirk Viaduct monument, dedicated to the 1838 completion of the Newkirk Viaduct over the Schuylkill River. The bridge was not replaced by other bridges until 1902.

Old abandoned truss bridge dating from 1901

If you venture past the terminus of the path, which of course would be considered trespassing and is certainly not condoned by yours truly, you’d find the cleaver- and wild rose-covered railroad tracks leading to a rusting, abandoned truss swing bridge, once grandiosly known as Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Bridge No. 1. If you stand still along the path leading to the boat rentals at Bartram’s Garden, you can hear the old spanner groan as it swings slightly in the breeze.

Beneath the Grays Ferry Avenue Bridge

Farther inland, the path empties out underneath the Grays Ferry overpass, of graffitied columns and rough soil carpeted with Sweet Annie and a field of sumacs and mullein.

Somehow, this area will be reconstructed to continue the trail across the Schuylkill, “via a new bridge constructed with portions of an old abandoned swing bridge.”

 

Meanwhile, according to the article linked above, more trails and connections are being added, which is all very promising for a more bicycle-friendly city. Let’s hope this translates into fewer vehicles and buses and more bike rentals and maps from the Visitor Center…*

*(Stop by at 6th and Market for some advice on getting around Philly by bike!)