Philly’s FDR Park gets federal grant for stream and wetland restoration

$1.5 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help fund work in the natural areas of FDR Park, part of a $250 million park renovation.

a dog running in a park

FDR Park in South Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A stream and wetland restoration project at a popular park in South Philadelphia is getting a boost with federal money.

$1.5 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help fund work in the natural areas of FDR Park.

“The grant will enable us to continue and expand our nature-based programming at FDR and will encourage more visitors to get on the water,” said Jeff Barg, a spokesperson for the Fairmount Park Conservancy, in an emailed statement. “It’s a big deal.”

The nonprofit Fairmount Park Conservancy is spearheading a more than $250 million renovation of FDR Park, which will include new playgrounds, a new welcome center, and new sports fields and courts. Fundraising for the project is ongoing, although construction on some elements has begun.

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The money announced Thursday is part of a slate of grants through the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund, totaling nearly $15 million, for projects in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.

The grant going to FDR Park will help fund the restoration of Shedbrook Creek in the southwest corner of the park, with more trees and six acres of habitat along the stream. The money will also help pay for the creation of a sedge meadow where park users can explore the park’s waterways, and the conversion of “fragmented, low-quality” wetlands into a “higher functioning” wetland ecosystem, Barg said.

The park is low-lying and located along the Delaware River. The project is expected to increase the park’s ability to store floodwaters and its resilience to climate change, according to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“The project focus is on the creation [and] restoration of these natural areas of the park to provide both environmental benefits and improved access to the water,” Barg said.

The project is separate from the 33-acre tidal wetland being built at FDR Park by the Philadelphia International Airport as an offset for disrupting other wetlands in its cargo expansion project, Barg said.

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The airport’s wetland project — also in the southwest corner of the park — is intended to fix the park’s chronic flooding issues and re-establish native habitat. But it sparked outrage when park users found out it would involve clearcutting dozens of acres of existing trees and vegetation — including a beloved naturalized former golf course known as “the meadows.”

Activists with a group called Save the Meadows have called for a rethinking of the park plan and have criticized the Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation’s public engagement around it.

The Conservancy emphasizes that the park plan was based on a “yearslong community engagement process” with input from “neighbors, stakeholders, park users, market vendors and more.”

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