From the Eyes on the Street blog of Planphilly.com (August 30, 2013)
As part of a summer “Staycation” series, Eyes on the Street is profiling outdoor getaways that Philadelphians can explore without having to go too far.
Summer is winding down, and overbearing humidity and heat waves will soon give way to the crisp kind of fall weather that draws people outside, away from their air conditioners and into the fresh air. While the Schuylkill River Trail, Kelly Drive, and MLK Drive might fill up on a nice fall Saturday or Sunday, Cobbs Creek Trail provides a paved, off-road bike and pedestrian trail that fewer people know about.
The smooth, paved trail rolls along Cobbs Creek Park, following the Cobbs Creek Parkway for most of its route. As a parkside trail, the Cobbs Creek Trail has plenty of shade and natural beauty. Steve Taylor, Community Liaison at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, said the trail can feel 10 degrees cooler than bike lanes in the city.
"I would certainly recommend it as a place to go and relax on the weekends," said Jeannette Brugger, a planner at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission who managed the Philadelphia Trail Master Plan. "You can easily make a day trip out of it," she said.
Today the trail extends from around 63rd Street Station at 63rd and Market streets, south along Cobbs Creek Parkway to 70th Street. In that span the trail passes the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center,Laura Sims SkateHouse in Cobbs Creek Park (an ice skating rink with both adult and youth hockey programs), Mount Moriah Cemetery, multiple playgrounds, tennis courts and areas to sit just off the trail in Cobbs Creek Park.
"It's a pretty straight forward trip," said Rob Armstrong, preservation and capital projects manager at Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. "It's paved. It's very easy to ride, [and] it's safe."
"There's a really nice, unpaved part of Cobbs Creek Trail that is through the woods," Brugger said. "It's a beautiful path and people don't know much about it."
In total there are about two miles of unpaved trails through Cobbs Creek Park. Some are better maintained than others though, and Armstrong cautioned that most of trails are not appropriate for road bikes. Sections of those trails provide quiet hiking areas along the creek itself and access to a variety of wildlife that Barbara McCabe, director of stewardship at Parks & Rec, said most people probably are not aware of.
"I don't think people realize how easily they can escape the city by getting onto that trail," McCabe said. "When you're out there, you really feel you are not in an urban setting."
One prize feature of the Cobbs Creek Trail is that it is a unique connector with potential to link the city with outlying towns in Delaware County, just across the creek.
"There's a foot bridge over the creek, and you're in Delaware County, which you don't really think of being able to walk to," Brugger said.
The Cobbs Creek Trail is part of the East Coast Greenway, an in-the-works recreational trail that will extend from Maine to Florida, and it links with several city bike lanes, like those on Market and Spruce streets. It also ties into the recently opened 58th Street Greenway, which links the Cobbs Creek Trail to Bartram's Garden and provides access to the rest of the city by way of the Grays Ferry Bridge.
"When you get on the trail, you're not going to be in a vacuum, you'll be able to make key connections," Brugger said.
These connections help support Cobbs Creek Trail as a day trip destination, and there are plans in the works that could take a day trip along the trail to the next level. The Clean Air Council and Parks & Rec are in the process of planning theCobbs Creek Connector Project. If all goes as intended, this will extend Cobbs Creek Trail from its current dead end around 70th Street and Cobbs Creek Parkway to the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge, which boasts 10 miles of its own bicycle and hiking trails in addition to plenty of day trip worthy nature and wildlife access.
The first phase of that extension is already through the preliminary feasibility stage. Now Parks & Rec and the Clean Air Council are heading toward final design and hope to begin construction as soon as possible. Armstrong said the connector project is a priority for the city.
"I think it'll add to the region's growing trail network," said Nick Rogers, transportation coordinator at the Clean Air Council. "There are trails like this being built all over the place, and the more smaller projects that get built and integrated, the better resource this is going to be to everyone in the region."
"It was started with the goal to get people into the park, using the trail and just seeing how beautiful it is," McCabe said.
Any funding the 5K raises will go toward programming in the park. "We'd like to build a better program base to get people out into the park and realize what a beautiful asset it is," McCabe said.
Parks & Rec has been working in phases to engage the community around the park. The first phase of building community engagement was working with local police to make sure citizens concerned with safety, illicit activity or dumping in the park could raise those concerns and have them addressed by police. Now in the second phase of community engagement, Parks & Rec is working with the Friends of Cobbs Creek to develop programming like the 5K and a potential movie night.
"I think the more events take place, we'll see more of a rise in engagement," said Felicia Parker-Cox, community organizer for the Office of the Deputy Mayor and Parks & Rec.
For those interested in exploring the Cobbs Creek Trail for the first time, the 5K might be an ideal opportunity.
"Safety is always a concern of people in any trail, so having these type of organized events [people] feel a little more at ease going into the trail because you're out there with a lot of other people," McCabe said.
Jessica Parks, Inquirer Staff Writer
A battle is brewing on the banks of the Schuylkill - and the Monongahela, the Lackawanna, the Juniata, the Swatara, and the Kiskiminetas.
Those six waterways are vying for the Pennsylvania River of the Year title, to be decided by a public online vote.
As of Friday afternoon, with 6,830 votes cast, the Monongahela was in the lead (2,103 votes), with the Schuylkill lapping at its heels (1,762).
The contest, funded by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and run by the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, aims to raise awareness and appreciation of the state's waterways.
For smaller rivers such as the Kiskiminetas and the Swatara, the title would bring a big public relations bump. And the $10,000 prize would help kick-start celebratory and educational events on the river for 2013.
For the Schuylkill, this is more about bragging rights.
After all, "awareness" is hardly in short supply in its case, and $10,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions flowing into long-term river cleanup and recreation projects.
Of the planned 130-mile Schuylkill River Trail, only about 40 miles have been built. Syrnick said the project "could use a boost" to get more people and cities more involved.
In 2011, the title went to the mighty Delaware. But last year's winner was a mere 45-mile tributary - Stonycreek River in the Laurel Highlands area.
The Stonycreek has rebounded in recent years from the devastating runoff of abandoned strip mines. It meanders through rolling farmland, woodlands, and former coal-mining communities, attracting anglers with its pristine trout fishing and white-water rafters with the longest set of continuous rapids in the eastern United States.
The Stonycreek was already becoming a major outdoor recreation and tourism destination, and "the River of the Year thing just took the interest in that up a whole notch," said Mike Quinn, facilitator of the Stonycreek Quemahoning Initiative. After winning the award, the river got a visit from the governor, and won grants for social media promotion and recreation subsidies to lure people to try canoeing or kayaking.
The Stonycreek beat out three of this year's competitors: the Monongahela, the Kiskiminetas (a confluence of waterways that join the Allegheny near Freeport), and the Juniata, a 94-mile rural river stretching from Huntingdon to Amity Hall.
Also in the running this year are two tributaries of the Susquehanna River in Northeastern Pennsylvania - the Lackawanna, which will connect to the Delaware and Hudson Rail-Trail, and the Swatara, a 72-mile creek with a legacy of frontier forts and Underground Railroad stops.
Although the two biggest rivers are in the lead, much could change in the next two weeks.
Quinn said the contest seemed a bit "like David and Goliath," but he had a strategy to beat his urban competitors: "I waited up until three days before the deadline and let them take the lead. And then we would work tirelessly for three days, knocking on doors and making calls."
The ballot is open online at www.pawatersheds.org/vote through Jan. 18. One vote per person.