Fully restoring Schuylkill River Trail in Philly post-Ida could take months

A section of the Schuylkill River Trail is still closed, and it’s unclear who will pay to repair and restore lighting, fencing, and other damaged infrastructure.

The roof of a shed rests on a railing along the Schuylkill River Trail

The roof of a shed rests on a railing along the Schuylkill River Trail north of Walnut Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The floodwaters that seeped onto Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River Trail from the remnants of Hurricane Ida have receded, and volunteers have helped clear out mud to make the trail walkable. Still, it will be months until the trail looks the way it did before.

According to the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, last week’s severe storm knocked out lighting along the trail; about 300 feet of fencing that separates people from the railroad tracks was damaged; a dock washed down the river; and the public restroom needs to be pumped after flooding.

Blaise Syrnick shows how high the floodwaters rose
Blaise Syrnick, operations manager of Schuylkill Banks, shows how high the floodwaters rose on the maintenance shed, about four feet higher than after Hurricane Isaias a year ago. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“That’s going to be a big cost to repair and probably will happen over a period of months,” said Joe Syrnick, president and CEO of the SRDC.

The trail is still closed from Lock Street to Shawmont Avenue because of dangerous conditions, and the city is asking residents to continue to avoid recreational boating and kayaking on the river.

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Who will pay to restore the trail and certain amenities remains to be seen.

The development corporation owns some equipment on the trail outright — think kayaks, T-shirts they sell, a shed where equipment is stored — but the trail is mainly under the purview of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which oversees 10,200 acres of parkland. The development corporation partners with the department to oversee some sections of the trail.

Debris stacked in a pile along the Schuylkill River Trail
After the flood, dozens of volunteers helped clean up the area along the Schuylkill River Trail and stacked the debris in neat piles for future pick up. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A spokesperson for Parks and Rec said the city is still assessing damage with federal, state, and local partners. The department is also relying on the public to report damage online.

Based on the total damage, the city can make a FEMA request for public assistance, the country’s largest grant program for communities “recovering from major disasters or emergencies declared by the president.”

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Syrnick said the development corporation sees itself as a partner of the parks department. If the Schuylkill River Trail needs help, so do other parks, said Syrnick.

With that in mind, Syrnick said the damage along the trail is “not the end of the world.”

“But when you’re a small nonprofit, it hurts,” he said. “Where is the money coming from? We don’t know the answer to that yet.”

Schuylkill Banks volunteer Elit Felix helps clean the restrooms along the Schuylkill River Trail
Schuylkill Banks volunteer Elit Felix helps clean the restrooms along the Schuylkill River Trail, which were inundated with muddy water during the flood. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The development corporation does have “a little bit of a rainy-day fund,” but Syrnick said it’s not nearly enough to fix everything that was damaged.

Even if federal money does come to the rescue, the timeline is unclear. For example, fixing the restroom is of high priority as public events are expected to resume this coming weekend.

“If we had everything done by Christmas, I think we’d all be pretty happy,” said Syrnick.

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