‘MeadowFest’ celebrates the FDR park meadows with art, activism, and citizen science

Rebecca Deegan, and Carys Morken, 7, look for insects in FDR Park’s Meadowlands during the first day of Meadowfest on September 26, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Rebecca Deegan, and Carys Morken, 7, look for insects in FDR Park’s Meadowlands during the first day of Meadowfest on September 26, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

This week you can learn to save seeds, do a guided meditation or get activist training at FDR park in South Philadelphia.

The activities are part of a weeklong, grassroots program of events called “MeadowFest,” put together by a variety of Philly residents and organizations.

“The overall theme [is] connecting and learning about the biodiversity at … the meadows, as well as celebrating its beauty and how much is left to save,” said Avigail Milder, a MeadowFest organizer.

Rebecca Deegan holds a beetle found in the FDR Park’s Meadowlands during the first day of Meadowfest on September 26, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The events — from adventure biking to Plein air painting — celebrate a naturalized area on the western side of FDR park known to some users as “the meadows,” which grew from a municipal golf course that closed in 2019. The area is slated for big changes during the $250 million transformation of the park — which will include renovated buildings, dozens of new athletic fields and courts, a great lawn, and miles of trails. Under the current plan, the former golf course will turn into sports facilities, forested and emergent wetlands, nature trails, and a “wildflower hill” made from soil dredged to create a tidal wetland in the southwest area of the park.

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

Kat Kendon is an organizer with the group Save the Meadows  — which is pushing for a reimagining of the FDR Park Plan. Kendon says the goal of MeadowFest is to raise awareness about the meadows.

“Really invite people from all walks of life to come down and see what this space has to offer,” she said. “It just, as it stands right now, is a pretty magical space. And we just want to be sure people had a chance to experience that.”

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

Some Philadelphians were alarmed when site clearing started last month on the western side of the park to make way for the tidal wetland and the soil hill. A total of roughly 58 acres have been cleared, including space for the 33-acre wetland, construction site haul roads, staging areas, and the soil hill, said Heather Redfern, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia International Airport, which is funding the wetland project as an offset for the disruption of other wetlands in the airport’s cargo expansion project.

Construction is underway at FDR Park’s Meadowlands on September 26, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The tidal wetland being built at FDR park is meant to tackle chronic flooding that often leaves the park’s playground and baseball fields wet. City officials say it will involve planting 7,000 new native trees and 1,700 bushes and woody shrubs, in an attempt to re-establish the habitat that was there before the land became a park.

But Milder, a founding member of Save the Meadows, worries these young trees won’t truly replace the mature trees that were cut down.

Construction is underway at FDR Park’s Meadowlands on September 26, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“All the benefits that mature trees give the ecosystem — it’s nowhere equivalent,” she said.

The original intent of MeadowFest was to catalog the species of plants and animals present at the meadows, Milder said. But in just a few weeks, the event expanded to include art, activism, sports, and community-building.

“As time went on and we became a cohesive group with many different voices and backgrounds and interests, the event naturally grew into a host of different events,” she said.

A red spider found at the Bug Blitz event at FDR Park’s Meadowlands during the first day of Meadowfest on September 26, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Scheduled activities include a beekeeping lesson, seed bomb crafting, community science tree mapping, and a grief circle. A foraging walk and direct action training were among the events that happened this past weekend.

At a “Bug BioBlitz” hosted by the Sierra Club Monday, 7-year-old Carys Morken caught and categorized insects. She’s a nature-lover whose favorite bugs are cockroaches, because of their size and brown color.

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7-year-old Carys Morken, a science and nature lover, looks at an earwig through a magnified container. She joined the Bug Blitz event at the FDR Park meadowlands, part of Meadowfest, on September 26, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Carys’ mom, Olivia Cosden, said her family has gotten “really attached“ to the meadows during the pandemic, and was sad to see areas blocked off for construction and trees cut down.

“Especially for kids living in the city, to have this type of open space and be able to explore nature and appreciate it is really important,” she said. “We’re disappointed that this has happened, but we’re still going to come here. Just not in the same way we used to, I guess.”

MeadowFest continues at the park through Sunday — with activities for kids and adults planned each day.

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