Wissahickon resident Craig Ablin is a visionary. Eight years ago, he and his wife came to the neighborhood as expectant parents. But shortly after buying their home, they wondered where their future child would play.
The local Neighbors Park was run-down and often empty, and the blocks surrounding it were full of transient renters or older residents whose children had left home. “When we first moved,” said Ablin, “we couldn’t find another kid around here.”
Several years later, Ablin started a local initiative to update the park – located at the intersection of Hermit and Terrace Streets — and on Saturday, over 100 children gathered to play in the new $250,000 center.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., neighbors and their families gathered in the heat at a grand opening celebration which included catering by Winnie’s Le Bus and a ribbon-cutting by Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones. Ablin, chairman of the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association’s Park Committee, praised the Councilman for playing a key role in the park’s reopening.
“Councilman Jones was very approachable during the whole process,” said Ablin. At the beginning of his quest to renovate the park, Ablin called upon the Councilman for direction. “Here I [was] Joe Schmo from the community,” he laughed, “and he made time for me very quickly.” After Ablin applied and secured a small starting grant from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Jones obtained $250,000 in further grant money from the city for the initiative.
Of all of the park’s amenities, Ablin is proudest of its potential to “connect” a “reasonably disconnected” community within a creative space.
After Saturday’s ceremony, children jumped inside a moon bounce on the park’s resurfaced basketball courts. They screamed and ran through a new spray ground surrounded by reinstalled brickwork and a new wrought iron fence. In an adult-sitting area in the middle of the park, parents sat on benches and at tables while kids got their faces painted under a tent.
Leah Moran grew up on Drexel Street. She now lives in Montgomery County, but returns often to visit her mother. Both women watched as Moran’s daughter played on the spray ground.
“All of my friends used to play here,” said Moran, “and now we all bring our kids.” Dianna Rogalski nodded as her daughter spoke. She agreed with Craig Ablin that not as many children lived in the neighborhood as they once had, but she is confident that the park will attract more kids to the area.
“It uplifts the neighborhood,” she said.