Public now welcome to stroll 50 acres along Tacony Creek in Northeast Philly

Grounds along the Tacony Creek  in Northeast Philadelphia will now be open to the public after Natural Lands, a conservation group, invested $500,000 to create a conservation easement that preserves 49 acres of the Friends Hospital property. (Mae Axelrod / Natural Lands)

Grounds along the Tacony Creek in Northeast Philadelphia will now be open to the public after Natural Lands, a conservation group, invested $500,000 to create a conservation easement that preserves 49 acres of the Friends Hospital property. (Mae Axelrod / Natural Lands)

Northeast Philadelphia residents have a new green area to enjoy.

Natural Lands, a conservation group, invested $500,000 to create a conservation easement that preserves 49 acres of the Friends Hospital property, a 200-year-old private psychiatric hospital in the Frankford neighborhood.

Until now, in order to get to the Tacony Creek in that area, you would have to get permission from the hospital’s landowners, the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation. The easement changes that, giving the public permanent access to the creek.

“By placing this easement on the property, we both protected the watershed of the Tacony Creek and made it more available to the public,” said Peter Williamson, Natural Lands’ vice president of conservation services.

Williamson said the land was identified as a high priority for Natural Lands since 1996 through a study evaluating property that could be logically added to the city’s park system. The Friends Hospital was one of the largest remaining undeveloped properties along Tacony Creek Park, with the creek itself flowing through the hospital grounds instead of the park.

The conservation easement limits the Scattergood Foundation’s ability to develop 49 of the 100 acres of the property, to preserve it in perpetuity. Friends Hospital, the oldest private psychiatric hospital in the country, was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in 1999.

Joe Pyle, the foundation’s president, said it’s a win-win for everyone because it opens the land to neighbors; it gives the foundation dollars that can be used for other projects; and it preserves the foundation’s Quaker values.

“The early Quakers believed that the use of the land, light and air were therapeutic — and we’re finding today that that holds very true,” Pyle said. “About five years ago, working with the city, we granted a trail easement which allowed for about a three-quarter of a mile trail to be built along the Tacony Creek — now this will create greater access.”

The trail is part of the Tacony Creek Trail, a 3.2-mile paved route that follows the creek. In turn, the Tacony trail is part of a regional network called the Circuit Trails.

Though the area had been open for the use of hospital patients, the grounds had been underutilized, Pyle said.

“This is really more of a community program than it is a treatment program for the current clients of the hospital,” Pyle said.

The Tacony Creek is in the middle of a heavily developed area and flows to the Delaware River. The creek is protected by the park. But, according to Julie Slavet, executive director of the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, the park is under a lot of stress.

“One of the challenges is that it is so narrow — it’s only 300 acres, and half of that is the Juniata Golf Course — and it’s surrounded by really dense development, and it’s not well protected from vehicle access,” said Slavet. “So adding those 49 acres to protection is really critical for the creek, the trail, and the entire park.”

Preserving the land around it will protect water quality by reducing runoff pollution and trash coming into the stream.

Disclosure: The Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation supports WHYY.

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