Plan to expand Fairmount Park into East Mt. Airy faces final vote

A privately owned patch of wild forest in East Mount Airy will likely become part of Fairmount Park by the end of summer.

A bill to that end was introduced Thursday during a full City Council session and has been scheduled for a final vote at a future meeting.

The measure would allow DeSouza Brown, Inc. to donate the six-acre plot to the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

If it passes, Mayor Michael Nutter is expected to sign the measure. The city would take ownership of the land – near the intersection of Cresheim Valley Drive and Stenton Avenue – after the agreement is put on paper, said Mark Focht, executive director of the Fairmount Park Commission.

“This is going to happen,” said Focht of the land transfer.

The city’s interest in acquiring the plot is two-fold. In the immediate future, the donation will help Parks and Recreation achieve its goal of adding 500 acres of public green space. That initiative, dubbed Green2015 is part of the city’s larger sustainability plan, Greenworks Philadelphia.

Farther down the road, the parcel may become a stop along the Cresheim Valley Trail, envisioned to connect Wissahickon Valley Park to Montgomery County.

” It’s right in an area where we’ve been doing a lot of work and thinking and it was very important to the community so it seemed to fit naturally,” said Focht.

Members of the Wissahickon East Project, a small non-profit in East Mount Airy, are overjoyed that the years worth of work they’ve put in to protect this land may soon pay off.

“It’s really exciting,” said Elizabeth Martens, who co-chairs the group.

“We started in a place where we knew something needed to happen to that land but didn’t really have much hope that we would ever be able to get it cared for and turned into an asset for the community,” she added.

For the past six years, WEP has been working with the owners of the land to preserve and protect it from development.

DeSouza Brown, Inc, who has owned the parcel for decades, was at one time interested in building more than two dozen town homes on the land. That possibility was later permanently tabled after WEP successfully brokered a deal to place a conservation easement on the property. That 2006 agreement effectively barred DeSouza from building anything there.

But unable to purchase the property outright, the group turned to the city to see if there was any interest in acquiring the land. There was.

If the land becomes public, it will maintain its open space status, according to Focht. It will not be transformed into a structured space for recreation.

“It’s not going to be a developed park,” said Focht.

The plot may feature a simple path and a bridge, said Martens. The parcel’s steep topography is divided by a section of the Cresheim Creek and will likely require a means to cross back and forth between the two halves.

The plot, however, will first require a fairly extensive clean-up effort. The land has long been a site for short dumping. Creek-soaked cars, carpet remnants and empty beer bottles can all be found within.

Volunteers, including WEP members, have been cleaning up around the park’s edges – along Cresheim Valley Drive and Woodbrook Lane – but were not permitted to delve deeper into the privately owned property.

Martens said the community is looking forward to finally being able to enjoy the land the way they’ve always wanted.

“It will give people of all ages a place to enjoy nature and hopefully do some good things for the overall Wissahickon watershed,” she said.

Focht said there will likely be an event of some sort in September to celebrate this small expansion of Fairmount Park.

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