Boosting Northeast Philly’s green canopy by planting trees and giving them away

Pennypack Creek at the point where it meets the Delaware River. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Pennypack Creek at the point where it meets the Delaware River. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Two local nonprofits, Riverfront North Partnership and the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, will team up Saturday to plant 200 trees along the Pennypack Creek in Northeast Philadelphia.

The groups, working with the Arbor Day Foundation, will also give away 150 trees to residents of the city’s Holmesburg and Frankford neighborhoods.

Their goal is twofold: to help reduce the amount of rainwater runoff that flows into the Delaware River and to add to the tree canopy in the two communities.

Stephanie Phillips, executive director of Riverfront North Partnership, told WHYY News that the event is targeted at parts of Philadelphia “that have either seen a significant decline in tree canopy, or never had much to begin with. And this is part of a citywide initiative to increase the tree canopy to 30% in the city and all the many health and environmental benefits.”

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In a news release about the Saturday event, Julie Slavet, executive director of Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Partnership, said, “We’re dedicated to improving the health of our waterways and of our constituents, and increasing tree canopy is key to this goal.”

Pennypack Creek was one of several creeks that crested their banks in August as the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit this region hard and also caused Schuylkill and Delaware River flooding.

Preventing stormwater runoff from reaching the Delaware helps provide safer water for native wildlife and the city residents for whom the river is a primary source of drinking water.

“I would say, particularly in Northeast Philadelphia, the Delaware River in Philadelphia provides 60% of the city’s drinking water. So having the upside, reducing the pollutants that get into the river, a variety of trees help create a buffer between the city and the river. That really helps us in keeping the river,” Phillips said. “We have monthly cleanup days on the shoreline. You would not believe the number of plastics that we clean up along the shoreline, and just in one year alone we cleaned up 12,000 pounds. It was mostly plastic water bottles. You know, all of that stuff that just gets into our sewer system.”

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Trees also keep the city cooler and reduce the urban heat island effect, Phillips said. “Something that Philadelphia definitely is feeling is climate change. We’ve had noticeably hotter summers in the last few decades.”

Since 2017, the Arbor Day Foundation, which bills itself as the largest nonprofit membership organization planting trees, has helped Riverfront North Partnership’s efforts every spring and fall.

“Because of that support, we have plans … by the end of this year for 1,200 trees in Northeast Philadelphia,” Phillips said.

“It is inspiring to see Philadelphia enrich their green spaces and neighborhoods with trees that play an important part in a greener future,” Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation, said in a news release. “The city’s goal to have at least 30% tree canopy cover in each of its neighborhoods by 2025 is commendable, and we are pleased to support them in their efforts.”

Holmesburg and Frankford were among the areas identified in a city tree assessment by neighborhood and zip code.

“So, they were areas that not only had low canopy, but that in the last decade have seen a serious decline in tree canopy. Also, Holmesburg and Frankford are areas where there are some significant city parks, trails, and so we knew that we could make that connection between the neighborhoods, and the trails and the parks and make those connections that would be great,” Phillips said.

The Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership works to educate about clear water issues in parks and communities stretching from the Tookany/Tacony Creek’s headwaters in Abington Township, through Montgomery County into Cheltenham, Jenkintown, Rockledge, and Springfield, and to neighborhoods in North, Northeast, and Northwest Philadelphia.

Riverfront North Partnership is collaborating with the city “to construct, steward, and activate an 11-mile network of parks and trails in Northeast Philadelphia that runs from Port Richmond to the Bucks County line. And today, we’re about two-thirds of the way through the trail link, with the goal of breaking ground in 2022 in Bridesburg,” Phillips said.

Earlier this week, Riverfront North’s riverfront trail effort was one of 13 projects honored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection with a 2021 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.

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