Blazing a trail that’s a work in progress

By Kellie Patrick
For PlanPhilly

Dorothy Fritsch has lived all of her 72 years in Mayfair. She enjoys the river. She just wishes it were a bit easier to be near it.

Saturday, Fritsch joined about 30 other people on a walk along a portion of the proposed path of the North Delaware Greenway – a $150 million system of parks and natural spaces linked by a multi-use trail that will stretch about 10 miles from Pulaski Park to Glen Foerd.  So far, $30 million in federal transportation money has been promised to the project.

River advocates, community leaders and others hope this trail will eventually be part of a city-long, riverfront path – and that Philadelphia’s path will, in turn, be part of a multi-state East Coast Greenway.

The city has given the Delaware River City Corporation, a non-profit formed by former Congressman Robert A. Borski, the responsibility of guiding and implementing the Greenway plan.

“We’re hoping we can get a lot more people out on the river,” Sarah Thorp, the Corporation’s executive director, told another walk participant.

Fritsch hoped so. “I’ve listened for 40 years about what people are going to do on the river,” she said, her purple and orange jacket tied around her waist on this balmy spring day.

The condition of the parking lot at Pleasant Hill Park – torn up on the eastern edge, where it will be replaced by plant life for both beauty and flood control, gave Fritsch hope.

“It looks like something is starting,” she said.

Construction is underway. About half the project is set for completion in 2008, and the entire project should be finished within five years, Thorp said.

The Earth Day walk began at Pleasant Hill, which is also called the Fish Hatchery. Rich Sodouski, maintenance supervisor for the city’s recreation department, spoke a bit about the history of the place.

“This was the original hatchery in Philadelphia,” he said. “1896, the building stone says.” Shad and other fish were raised here then released into the river, particularly in areas where fish seemed never to go on their own, he said.

But as the Northeast portion of the city developed, it was decided this was no place for a hatchery, and it became a park.

Sodouski, 49, grew up in the neighborhood. The river was much more contaminated then, when steel mills and other industries churned out their goods along it. “We used to come swimming here, anyway, and my mom would catch us because our underwear would turn a brown, rusty color,” he remembered. “Now, you can actually stick your leg in the water and see your foot.”

Above Pleasant Hill, the Greenway Trail will stick close to the river. But the park is adjacent to the Baxter Water Treatment Plant – which takes much of the city’s drinking water from the Delaware. And for now, due to post-9/11 security measures, the trail will jut westward on Linden Avenue, then follow State Road to Pennypack Street before cutting through somewhere on or near the Philadelphia Fire Academy property and returning to the riverbank.

Thorp said the trail will skirt natural areas along the river as much as possible, but will sometimes need to skirt around places like Baxter or active industrial sites.

Along some parts of the path, litter and broken glass were as common as wildflowers.

“It’s still a working river,” said DRCC Board Secretary Mariann Porter Dempsey.

The 70 interpretive signs planned for the trail will teach not only about the nature found in and along the river, but about its industrial and historical significance, she said.

Walkers caught a glimpse of Philadelphia firefighters practicing at their fire tower before climbing up a bank and along a gravel roadway that took them back to expansive views across the water.

The tide was low, and the tops of muck-loving plants were visible. Ducks and geese floated like miniature rowboats on the glassy surface.

Dianne Retzback, 70, feels so peaceful at the river that she suggested school children be taken there to contemplate and relax.

Retzback has long volunteered with river and stream organizations. “I’m glad I lived long enough to see this,” she said of the coming trail.

The walk ended where the Pennypack Creek – which starts in Horsham, Montgomery County – widens to give its waters to the Delaware.

The trail plan includes a bridge at this point, so that users can enter Pennypack Park.

As the walkers retraced their steps back to Pleasant Hill Park, Fritsch had a suggestion.

“I hope they have benches when they fix it up,” she said.
“Lots of benches,” Thorp promised.

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