The Waterfront: Friends Organization Works to Improve Schuylkill River Park

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A view of the dog run and connector bridge from Schuylkill River Park.

Nestled between Spruce and Lombard streets, running next to the Schuylkill River, the Schuylkill River Park is a green sight for sore eyes tired of the urban landscape only blocks away.

In addition to open spaces and benches, the park has several basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds, a community garden, a dog run, a recreation center and a multipurpose athletic field. A spot for community members of all ages, the park wasn’t always this vibrant.

The organizations that has helped it along and makes sure it stays this way is Friends of Schuylkill River Park.

Formed in 1988, the FSRP works to preserve, maintain and improve the Schuylkill River Park. Their board is made up of all community members, like Derek Freres, who lives several blocks from the park.

Freres got involved with FSRP through the community garden. What was once all brick and railroad was replaced by benches and beds of plants. After running the garden for four years, he became more involved with FSRP and today is the vice president of the organization. He also volunteers with the Fitler Square and Rittenhouse Square community groups and has become an expert on large, privately-run capital projects in the city.

According to Freres, FSRP gets most of their funding through membership donations – about $40,000 a year. This, and the rest of the money they get through grants, outside donations and from the city, goes into maintaining and improving the park.

In addition to the connector bridge that was built last year, linking the park to Schuylkill Banks, the park was irrigated along the dog run and basketball courts. The courts were resurfaced and water-absorbing turf was installed in the dog run.

The park isn’t just great for sports and dogs. Children can use two playgrounds, which FSRP renovated in 2003. Area schools lease one of the parks for recess.

The recreation center has after-school softball and volleyball leagues. During the summer, they run a camp for kids.

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Walkway and dog run entrance at Schuylkill River Park.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap between when kids get out of school and when their parents get home,” says Freres.

They also run the pool a few blocks away on South Street.

Over the past few years, FSRP has worked on several big projects throughout the park.

“We try to do one big project a year,” says Freres.

One of these projects has been the renovation and irrigation of the athletic field. The project cost about $80,000, with $45,000 coming from the state, AT&T and CSX railroad. Another $10,000 came from the rec center, which gets money from summer camp and membership fees. The rest of the cost was covered by FSRP.

Their current project is to update the gateway entrance to the park on the corner of Pine and Taney streets next to the playground. Many of the existing tables are in disrepair and the overhead structure looks dated.

To fix up the area, FSRP is working with the Community Design Collaborative, an organization that works with nonprofits to revitalize the community. They bring in professional designers, urban planners, engineers and more to work pro bono to help the nonprofits with their projects.

FSRP has gotten $150,000 from the city but Freres says the predicted cost of the gateway will end up being about $1 million.

Gateway Photo
Playground and recreation area, Schuylkill River Park

For both these big projects and the day-to-day maintenance of the park, FSRP hires contractors to do things like irrigation and gardening. One of the biggest issues in the park is graffiti, which needs to be removed fairly regularly.

Freres’ big irritation is the dead trees in the parks. Although city councilmen love spending money planting trees, they’re less inclined to spend money removing dead ones. According to Freres, FSRP has spent $50,000 to $60,000 on trees in the past couple years.

“There’s a lot of work in parks you don’t notice gets done, until it doesn’t get done,” says Freres.

– Video and text by Nicole Soll and Jesse Bellosi. Photos by Nicole Soll

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