Morris Park: A Green Urban Playground for Nature Lovers

West Philadelphia Orchestra speaks to neighborhood residents, who came to free concert in Morris Park.

Dan Gasiewski, long term resident of the Overbrook Farms and executive director of Friends of Morris Park, remembers the days when the meadowlands entrance to Morris Park, at the corners of 66th Street and Woodcrest Avenue, used to be full of litter left by local residents.

The corner of Woodcrest Avenue and 66th Street is the main entrance to Morris Park.
The corner of Woodcrest Avenue and 66th Street is the main entrance to Morris Park.

In 2004, Gasiewski founded the Friends of Morris Park with his brother, Tom.

“We have been dedicating our weekends for the past ten years just to make Morris Park a better place,” said Gasiewski.

They started the small non-profit volunteer organization with the hopes to revitalize the 147-acre park, which is a part of the Fairmount Park Commission and spread across parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.

“In addition to Overbrook Farms, we serve Northern Overbrook, Overbrook Park and Green Hill Farms,” said Julie Foster, president of the Friends of Morris Park. “We actually have a large number of residents of the park’s surrounding suburban areas – Lower Merion and Havertown – using the park.

The park’s roadway borders lie on City Line Avenue at its most western edge, through 66th Street’s residential area to the north and east. The park’s most southern point is at the corner of Lansdowne and Haverford avenues at Papa Playground.

Morris Park was created by the city of Philadelphia as a part of a donation to the city by Wistar Morris, of Philadelphia’s affluent Morris family, upon his death in 1891. Morris made the donation to the City Parks Association with the goal to help create parks in West Philadelphia to rival the park of Wissahickon.

The donation also prevented the park’s creek, Indian Creek, from becoming part of the city’s underground sewage system, as happened to several creeks in the city.

The most prominent parts of Morris Park are the creeks – East Branch Indian Creek and West Branch Indian Creek, which are both tributaries to Cobbs Creek and a part of the Cobbs Creek Park and Watershed.

The West Branch Indian Creek flows towards the larger Cobb Creek.
The West Branch Indian Creek flows towards the larger Cobb Creek.

“It is the most bio-diverse part of Cobbs Creek Park,” said Foster. “It is a natural respite and oasis in an urban landscape but it also is a great free space place for families to spend time with their kids.”

However, the park had not been maintained by the city of Philadelphia until the arrival of Friends of Morris Park. The Friends of Morris Park was the first group to create a plan for the conservation of the park since the 1930s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration(WPA) employees cared for the park.

“We have restored all the trails, taking out the invasive plants and removing the abandoned cars left in the park,” explained Gasiewski. “We have been working for ten years to create the experience people have when they walk through our park.”

Morris Park currently has picnic areas, locations for group gatherings and two miles of safe and maintained trails for hiking, biking, and bird and wildlife watching.

“Whether you know anything about them or not it is nice to get into a natural area where the air is clean and it is nice for individuals, the community and families can get out and do together,” said Gasiewski.

Some residents in the area say the park is part of the reason to live in this section of Philadelphia. However, there are residents who do not know about Morris Park. Anna Petruncio, who lives in Overbrook Farms, just learned of the neighborhood amenity.

“I got an email from my landlord about a free concert (in the park),” said Petruncio. “Now we love it. It is a major selling point. We bring our lovely dog out here to stretch his legs.”

Members of the West Philadelphia Orchestra perform free concert in Morris Park.
Members of the West Philadelphia Orchestra perform free concert in Morris Park.

Friends of Morris Park recently applied for an activities grant with the city of Philadelphia to help bring a series of summer concerts to the park, adding to the services the park brings to the community.

“One of our missions as a group is to maintain and preserve the natural woodlands of the park,” said Foster. “The other is to make it a service (available) for people to come together. It is a wonderful opportunity to bring neighbors who share interesting concerns to come meet each other for the first time and become a part of the community.”

Gasiewski is proud of the developments he has contributed to his community.

“Now, they know about Morris Park,” said Gasiewski. “They are going to come back.”

Morris Park’s trails are open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.]

– Text, images, and video by Julian Hamer

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