Northeast: The Friends of Pennypack Park Strive to Protect Historic Landscape

Members of the Friends of Pennypack collected 78 bags of trash in clean up behind Nazareth Hospital.]

Members of the Friends of Pennypack collected 78 bags of trash in clean up behind Nazareth Hospital.
Members of the Friends of Pennypack collected 78 bags of trash in a clean up behind Nazareth Hospital.

The Friends of Pennypack Park work together to beautify the park and preserve it for the enjoyment of future generations. Despite having an eye on the future, there is a particular area of the park which carries great historical significance. The Pennypack Creek Bridge, also known as the Holmesburg Bridge, was named a historical landmark by the state of Pennsylvania in October 2012.

The newly named historical site faces a number of issues which go beyond the occasional can or plastic bag the Friends of Pennypack will collect during a cleanup. Volunteers, along with neighborhood civic organizations and the police are making an effort to address the prostitution, homelessness and drug use problems in this area of the park.

As the area continues to deal with crime and other issues, Friends of Pennypack, led by President Linde Lauff, remains committed to the well-being of the bridge and the surrounding park.

Keep it clean

The hardest areas of Pennypack Park to keep clean:

  • Holme Avenue ball fields
  • Rhawn and Lexington
  • Sandy Run

“We’re going to do another cleanup on April 20 followed by a potluck picnic afterwards for anyone who wants to participate,” Lauff said. The cleanup and picnic will take place from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. Lauff said she is anticipating a good turnout with volunteers expected from the Holmesburg Civic Association and local schools.

Lauff said she understands her group can collect immense amounts of trash from the area surrounding the bridge, but there are other stains on the community they cannot combat alone. Homelessness and drug usage are two variables which make it hard for the group to make permanent improvement near the bridge, she said.

“The problem with homelessness is not with the individuals but more with the debris left behind when they encamp there and the obvious lack of bathrooms,” Lauff said. “We often see drug paraphernalia which means that families often don’t want to bring their children there. The cleanups are a way to try to reclaim the area for the community again.”

Lauff said she knows fighting such issues should not fall on the Friends of Pennypack. “It should be the city,” she said. “I guess the question is what particular agency becomes responsible.” Lauff said she believes Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation as well as other social services have to come together if real change is going to be made.

Friends of Pennypack member Nance Kerns directs volunteers at a recent clean up in the park.
Friends of Pennypack member, Nance Kerns, directed volunteers during a recent clean up in the park.

Rich Frizell, president of the Holmesburg Civic Association, shared many of Lauff’s sentiments. “The park has sort of been lost for the community,” Frizell said. “We have requested the 8th Police District to really keep on top of it which is difficult because their resources are very stretched.”

Although Frizell admits the challenge is hard, he commends the 8th District for its hard work and diligence in trying to curb the problems of drugs and vacancy.

Frizell does not have the same feelings toward the city’s Parks and Recreation department. “We are not happy with Parks and Recreation at all,” Frizell said. “That portion of Pennypack Park is really neglected by Parks and Recreation.” The Department of Parks & Recreation did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Frizell said he believes everyone, including the 8th District and Parks and Recreation, were committed to the area when it received its historical marker in October. However, since then Parks and Recreation has disappeared and not embraced a continued commitment.

Frizell said he hopes the historical significance will encourage the city to help the area more. “If I have to use the bridge to get recognition for our park, I will certainly do that,” he said.

The Friends of Pennypack Trees and Trails committee brought all the equipment used for the groups' clean up.
The Friends of Pennypack Trees and Trails committee brought all the equipment used for the group’s clean up.

Even with the many challenges in place, both Frizell and Lauff express a great deal of optimism in terms of the future of Pennypack Park. Frizell and the rest of the Holmesburg Civic Association are working in conjunction with Friends of Pennypack for the April 20 cleanup and picnic. Members of both groups see the park as a gem and they believe it is invaluable to the Northeast community.

Kevin Sweetra, a member of the Friends of Pennypack Trees and Trails committee, said he believes it will have to come down to law enforcement to protect the historic area.

“The only way to control the problem will be more police presence. We do not do any of that,” Sweetra said. “If it’s not police, it may be neighborhood watch groups, but it is probably going to come down to police.”

The issues of homelessness, drug use and prostitution make the area surrounding the Pennypack Creek Bridge difficult to keep clean for reasons other than just the trash on the ground. Dwindling resources in both the Department of Parks and Recreation as well as the Police Department have made the beautification of the area an ongoing struggle. However, community groups like the Friends of Pennypack are willing to fight in an effort to keep the park a thriving staple of Northeast Philadelphia.

Soundslide: Exploring Pennypack Park with Roland Williams w=500 h=333]

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