On Saturday, November 9, more than 100 parks in Philadelphia will be cleaned, greened, and celebrated during the annual Love Your Park Fall Service Day. While the Love Your Park program is organized by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the nonprofit group Fairmount Park Conservancy, it’s the 130 volunteer groups in the Philadelphia Park Friends Network who make the fall and spring events possible. And for these volunteers, Love Your Park isn’t just a twice-yearly event – it’s a daily commitment.
Philadelphia has championed parks and open spaces as a public good since its beginning, from the original five green squares to the forward-thinking decision to create Fairmount Park to protect the city’s watersheds. And today, the approximately 200 neighborhood parks are beloved shared spaces for celebrations, reflection, and gathering.
But what makes our parks great wouldn’t be possible without the hardworking Philadelphians who dedicate their free time to stewardship of their community green spaces. Indeed, the power of Philly’s parks lies in the people who use them and care for them.
Take Vernon Park, for example. Nestled in the heart of Germantown, the park dates back to 1895 and is home to one of the oldest Park Friends Groups in the network, Friends of Vernon Park. Soon after the Friends group formed in 1993, it worked with the City of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to oversee the park’s first renovation, bringing a new playground, fences, and a mosaic mural of the musician Sun Ra to the space.
And that was just the beginning. In 2011, Vernon Park became home to a new rain garden, one of the first of its kind in the city, helping to set an example for sustainable stormwater management—a major challenge for today’s cities. What has followed in recent years includes new playground equipment, new lighting, a new picnic area, and renewed, revitalized gardens.
Friends of Vernon Park is a diverse, intergenerational group of neighbors with many skillsets and areas of interest. We learn from one another and value all that each person brings to the table. When you visit Vernon Park and feel the peace that nature brings, smile at children playing, observe folks of all ages and backgrounds reading or catching up with one another under the many trees—when you are inspired to host an event or bring a friend or family member here to enjoy the ‘Emerald of Germantown’, we know we’ve done our job.
The joyful, quiet work of Friends of Vernon Park has helped to spur the revitalization of Germantown and the growth of similar Friends Groups across the city. In neighborhoods all around Philadelphia, members of the Park Friends Network have demonstrated how community and city-wide changes can be spurred by the collaboration of friends and neighbors. As urban dwellers, parks are our common backyard, giving us places to gather, to exercise and play, to enjoy nature and experience calm. Parks are welcoming green spaces used by rich and poor, old and young, and people from all faiths and walks of life.
We hope you will volunteer to help clean up your neighborhood park on November 9. At these events, there are usually kids, snacks, sometimes music, and always laughter and friends. The full schedule and volunteer registration are online at loveyourpark.org.