Under the Green City, Clean Waters plan, the Tacony Creek should be clean enough to swim and fish in within the next 25 years. This past spring the city and the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford (TTF) Watershed Partnership, Inc. took a major step toward achieving that goal when they opened the Tacony Creek Trail.
One of the city’s newest outdoor recreation and nature trails, the Tacony Creek Trail extends a little more than a mile from Roosevelt Boulevard, through lower Tacony Creek Park and the Juniata Golf Course to I Street and Ramona Ave. The trail follows Tacony Creek Park and meanders through forest and meadow areas.
“We designed it so people would have a meandering trail through the woods and not just a straight shot along the creek,” said Rob Armstrong, preservation and capital projects manager with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. Armstrong compared the forest area of the trail to portions of the Wissahickon Valley and Pennypack Trail.
The winding trail, which opened in April, is paved and open to bicyclists, runners and hikers alike. Four neighborhood gateways provide easy access to the park (see map below) and make the trail accessible to the various neighborhoods along the route.
In addition to a quiet, peaceful escape from the rest of the city, the park provides unique examples of how a nature trail can help improve the health of a polluted waterway and the challenges associated with drawing people into a park that even some neighbors might not know about.
Tacony Creek starts as the Tookany Creek in Cheltenham Township. Where it enters Philadelphia and forms the unofficial border between Northeast Philly and the rest of the city, its name changes to Tacony Creek. Then downstream, where the Tacony Creek meets Wingohocking Creek – now a sewer with the largest outflow in the city – its name changes again to Frankford Creek. From there, Frankford Creek feeds into the Delaware River in Bridesburg.
The park that surrounds the creek starts near Melrose Country Club in Cheltenham and extends through Juniata Park in Philadelphia. Because the watershed and park are so vast, organizing to improve the health of both takes on a different shape.
In 2000, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) launched the TTF Watershed Partnership, an effort to connect the many, diverse stakeholders that neighbor the watershed, both in Philadelphia and beyond. Now Philadelphia Parks & Recreation is leading work on Tacony Creek Trail, while PWD is supporting the efforts of TTF to get people onto the trail and into the park.
In April the Tacony Creek Trail officially opened in lower Tacony Creek Park, and TTF has been working since to activate the trail by engaging users. The park’s immediate neighbors are the organization’s first prospects.
“It would certainly be wonderful to have it be a destination,” said Alix Howard, TTF education and outreach director. “In the meantime it won’t become a destination until there are users here making it feel safe.”
TTF Executive Director Julie Slavet said the organization wants to help neighbors think of the park in manageable sections and to take ownership of the part of the park that’s closest to them. She hopes each neighborhood surrounding the park will think of their section as their extended backyard. To encourage this perspective, TTF has been organizing block parties and events at each of the four neighborhood gateways that feed into the trail.
Of course, TTF and the partner organizations want to draw as many people into the park as possible. They hope to work with everyone from historical societies to birders and runners to create consistent programming that will get people involved.
The driving force behind this work is the need to improve the health of Tacony Creek, one of the city’s polluted waterways.
“The reason there’s sewage in the Tacony is there’s too much runoff,” Slavet said.
Ideally improving the park and engaging users will help reduce the runoff that enters Tacony Creek and create more stewards of the watershed.
One challenge is letting people know that the park is safe and meant for running, walking and biking. Before the Tacony Creek Trail was paved and officially designated, a user-worn trail cut through the park and was frequented by ATVs, which tend to deter people from walking through.
ATVs also erode the creek banks, which leads to more sediment in the water, and today, sediment is the worst pollutant in the creek, Armstrong said. Fortunately ATV enforcement by the Philadelphia Police Department seems to be getting stricter. Already there is less evidence of ATV use.
“It comes at the perfect time, right when we built this trail and right when we want to get people back into the park,” Armstrong said.
One trail user who was biking through the park with two young children this July afternoon said his wife still doesn’t feel safe going on the trail alone.
“The more people that use it the better,” Armstrong said. “Take it back.”
The city and TTF are leading by example and doing what they can to take back the Tacony Creek Trail.
“I feel like every time I come down here it looks a little better,” Howard said.
The park and trail are only bound to improve from here. TTF is pushing full steam ahead with programming. Parks & Recreation is committed to the trail. PWD has committed to restoring the streambed, and another major change is on the horizon.
Right now, Roosevelt Boulevard cuts lower Tacony Creek Park off from upper Tacony Creek Park, but Parks & Recreation is planning a tunnel that will travel under the boulevard and connect the two park segments. The project is in design and the capital funding has already been set aside. Pending a Department of Environmental Protection permit, construction could start sometime next year.
Tacony Creek Park is also being looked at as part of the Frankford Creek Greenway Feasibility Study, which is being led by Parks & Recreation and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. The first public meeting will be held in late September.
Christine covers transportation and writes about everything from pedestrian concerns to bicycle infrastructure, bridges, trail networks, public transit and more. Her favorite assignments send her bushwhacking through Philadelphia’s yet-to-be-cleared bike trails, catching a glimpse of SEPTA’s inner workings or pounding the pavement to find out what pedestrians really think. Christine also covers community news for Eyes on the Street, where her coverage ranges from food sovereignty to public art and urban greening. She first joined PlanPhilly in fall 2011 as an intern through a partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods website. During the internship her reporting on the Housing Authority’s surplus property auctions earned an award from the Society of Professional Journalists.