‘Cobbs Connects’: West Philly neighbors work together to design new trail signage

“Come out, walk the trails, discover nature,” said Alicia Burbage. “You'll be amazed at what you can find.”

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A close-up of a group of people posing for a photo. One person is pointing to a sign.

(From left) Yoko Takahashi, Renee Schacht, Larissa Mogano, Alicia Burbage, and Sky Chandler, with one of their new signs near the Cobbs Creeks Community Environmental Education Center. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

West Philadelphia’s Cobbs Creek Trail became a bit brighter this week.

New signage designed and created by neighbors is now complete along the 3.7-mile-long trail.

Nine signs — each painted a special shade of sky-blue that attracts pollinators — are sprinkled between the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center and 70th Street and Woodland Avenue. The signs offer fun facts about native trees and key places nearby, like the historic Laura Sims Skate House and Mount Moriah Cemetery. QR codes direct users to learn more about different parts of the trail.

A map is visible in the foreground. A building and trees are in the background.
A new map in front of the Cobbs Creek Library in Philadelphia points out sites of interest along the trail and in the neighborhood. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“We wanted to bring people outdoors and also call attention to this amazing park, which is just such a treasure in the community,” said resident Larissa Mogano, who spearheaded the effort.

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A true community collaboration, the project has been in the works since before the pandemic.

Mogano, who works for a life sciences company, has lived in Cobbs Creek for 17 years and is an avid user of the trail. She brings her dog along for walks and bike rides with friends, many of whom are her neighbors.

The idea for signage came to Mogano a few years back, when she attended an event hosted by the Fairmount Park Conservancy. Mogano, who co-founded the community org Cobbs Creek Neighbors, worked with a coalition of residents and other groups to secure funding. Over the years, they received guidance and support from the Clear Air Council, Audubon Society, Land Health Institute, and AARP to figure out what the signs should look like and what should go on them.

A group of people stand next to a sign in a grassy area.
New signs along the Cobbs Creek Trail with maps, nature information and community bulletins were designed by neighbors. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Yoko Takahashi has lived in the neighborhood since 2016 and began to utilize the trail during the pandemic. The graphic designer lent her expertise to design the signs based on input from local residents, with the hope they would inspire visitors to value the area.

“It’s a beautiful trail, but it’s underappreciated,” said Takahashi. “I see dumping pretty often along the trail and it’s disheartening, so I wanted to make improvements and raise the neighborhood morale.”

A close-up of a sign with pavement, a road, and houses in the background.
New signs along the Cobbs Creek Trail with maps, nature information and community bulletins were designed by neighbors. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

After conceptualizing the signs, neighbors worked with the nonprofit Tiny WPA to bring them to life. The West Philly-based organization, which collaborates with residents to build community projects, created the prototypes, then built them.

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The first sign cropped up in October 2021 outside of the Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek Library. At six feet tall, it’s one of the largest. It serves as a community bulletin board for residents to promote events, services, and opportunities.

Alex Gilliam, co-founder of Tiny WPA, called the project “particularly cool” because it was “truly neighbor-driven.” The effort would not have happened, Gilliam said, “were it not for the advocacy, commitment, and even the graphic design skills of neighborhood residents.”

For Alicia Burbage, the environmental center’s director of operations and a lifelong Cobbs Creek resident, the signs go beyond functionality. They also represent the community coming together to create something positive.

Two people fix something on a sign.
Larissa Mogano (right) helps Tiny WPA’s Sky Chandler (left) install one of their new signs along the Cobbs Creek Trail. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“I am known for saying ‘Cobbs Connects’ in many ways, and the trail is just one of those ways,” said Burbage. She hopes the signs will spark a sense of exploration.

“Come out, walk the trails, discover nature,” she said. “Let your mind be free. Find peace. It’s a great escape. You’ll be amazed at what you can find.”

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