Blaise Syrnick, 55, is a lifelong resident of Manayunk. His memory predates the establishment of the Schuylkill River Trail.
On Martin Luther King, Jr. day, he stood on the trail, which someday soon will connect Center City to Schuylkill Haven 108 miles away.
As Syrnick directs landscaping volunteers, he tells them stories of what the riverfront looked like back then.
“There was a monkey swing over the canal before all this was built. It used to be called ‘stinky island’ where the sewer comes out.”
He stops sweeping the path and rests his broom against his chest to note, “Great carp fishing.”
Volunteers at work
On the national holiday, Blaise Syrnick coordinates volunteer efforts at five different sites around Manayunk and Roxborough.
This MLK day of service volunteers are clearing dead vegetation, removing litter, and chopping down vines at the Roxborough Reservoir, Germany Hill, the Schuylkill River Trail, the Manyunk Towpath, and the future Ivy Ridge Trail.
Its best to clear the area in the winter, “while the poison ivy is dormant,” says Blaise Syrnick.
They clear this season so in the spring, they can plant.
Restoring natural vegetation
Kay Sykora, who volunteers from the Destination Schuylkill River, explains how the vines are invasive, and choke out indigenous wildlife. By clearing out the invasive stuff the community can “do a better quality of planting.”
“If we restore the natural vegetation it also makes it a good corridor for wildlife,” Sykora explains, “and a nice cross section of wildlife use this trail.”
Marlene Schleifer, of the Ivy Ridge Green, points out that it’s not just wildlife in the woods. Germany Hill has been a party place for quite a while.
Annie Scott has lived across the street from Germany Hill since 2008. The unkempt woods across the street “was kind of the reason we bought the house.”
Her “old timer” neighbors have told her stories of how kids used to set fire to the woods, which was how the brush used to unintentionally be cleared.
Her neighbors used to stand across the street, trying to fan flames away as they came close to their rowhouses.
Planting the seeds
Jamai McClendon, 9, came from the Zhang Sah Martial Arts Center to volunteer.
As he clips at vines alongside the river, he asks another volunteer if he has ever been to Longwood Gardens.
“Its really pretty,” he says.
Asked if the Schuylkill River trail will ever be that beautiful, he says simply, “only if we plant seeds.”