Upper Roxborough: Thanks To Efforts of Local Civic Groups, Reservoir and Park Get Upgrades

Upper Roxborough Reservoir, located on the corner of Port Royale Street and Lare Avenue, was recently the site of a cosmetic upgrade. Pairing with Power Corps PHL, Roxborough Manayunk Conservancy led the charge on replacing the fencing along the Philadelphia Water Department swale. Previously lined with a metal chain link fence, the teams spent the course of two sessions tearing down 1,200 feet of metal before rebuilding a wooden fence, creating a more inviting environment. 

Previously in a surplus land bank owned by the City of Philadelphia, the Upper Roxborough Reservoir was returned to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation before the conservancy began to care for the park. A lifelong resident of Philadelphia, Tom Landsman, president of Roxborough Manayunk Conservancy, has the goal of renewing green spaces in the area through community involvement. 

“My specific function is to empower people that are connected to a site that’s near them on how to maintain it,” Landsman said. “We only plant native species we plant for wildlife, and maintenance. If we do our job well, the site is easier to maintain.”

The process of renewing the Upper Roxborough Reservoir did not start with the recent fence replacements, though. Through volunteer efforts, Roxborough Manayunk Conservancy’s team was able to clear paths for walking and since then the team has seen more passive use of the park. 

“When we first came up here, this site was a scary sight,” Landsman said. “So there were scary people appear and scary things happened. Now it’s very unusual when we’re doing a stewardship session not to see dozens and dozens of people constantly exercising in the morning, walking their dogs, bird-watching, and using this for you know public recreation.”

With an emphasis on passive recreation in the park, Landsman aims to open volunteer activities to everyone, believing that helping in the park can be beneficial to the park and residents. Offering a variety of ways for residents to tend to the park including tree planting sessions and passive weeding sessions, Roxborough Manayunk Conservancy encourages people to get involved. 

“If you see a trash strewn lawn, even if you don’t own it, make it pretty,” Landsman said. “Plant a tree, it helps in so many ways … Maybe you’ll get lucky and have a councilperson that cares about having community space for people of the community. And maybe you’ll get lucky and turn a little square that was blighted into a park where you can sit on a bench with your neighbors and make fun of each other and have a good time.”

For Power Corps PHL, partnering with Roxborough Manayunk Conservancy is another opportunity to give back to the community while improving their skill sets. Having worked with the conservancy in previous years, Power Corps PHL was excited to be a part of the project. 

Destiny Lewis, a crew leader at Power Corps PHL, sees the experience as rewarding and hopes that these skills will later be applied by her cohort. 

“Seeing the progress that we’ve made is really good,” Lewis said. “And seeing people walk by with their dogs and saying they don’t miss the fence, the metal fence that was here before, seeing now it’s a wooden fence. And it looks more inviting; it just makes you feel good.”

The new fence surrounding the meadows at the park are just the beginning for Roxborough Manayunk Conservancy. The group is hoping to move onto bigger projects for the park and possibly begin helping other communities nearby in their efforts to rebuild green spaces. John Carpenter, secretary of the conservancy, hopes the organization can take on a bigger role in preserving other spaces. 

“I’d also like to see the conservancy begin to step into a role of acting as a conservator for other green spaces that are not well protected in the neighborhood yet,” Carpenter said. “We have many places, small green patches, perched on cliffs sides, and steep slopes, and other areas.”

With improvements to the park, members of Roxborough Manayunk Conservancy are hoping to see an increase in park usage. Carpenter is looking forward to seeing the park after the project is completed and seeing how the park affects the community. 

“The fun part is actually seeing what happens in the green spaces here and seeing the people connected to each other,” Carpenter said. “Working on public green spaces like this is one of the best ways that we can connect neighbors to each other and really, sort of rebuild the social fabric around here that can sometimes be a little bit tattered by things not looking great.” 

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