by Guest Columnist Patrick Starr, Executive Vice President, Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC)
The recently opened half-mile of the Kensington & Tacony Rail Trail on the Delaware River in Philadelphia is a testament to the proverb, “Good things take time; great things take a little longer.”
The project was certainly a long time coming. The opportunity to convert the rail line to a publicly accessible multi-use trail first came to my attention in June of 1996 during a community meeting that PEC organized in partnership with the National Park Service to explore reconnecting Philadelphians with the majestic Delaware River. It seemed like a great opportunity to provide recreation access to an area that had long been isolated.
In the late 19th century, the Pennsylvania Railroad built a rail line to serve riverside industry, and its alignment right on the river’s edge was a proverbial nail in the coffin for community access to the River for fishing, swimming, and boating. Dozens of private boathouses were literally blocked by the new railroad line with its trestles and embankments.
The rail line was abandoned in the 1980s and had been sitting unused ever since.
Long story short: in 2003, PEC ended up raising money for and facilitating the sale of two miles of the corridor by ConRail to the City of Philadelphia. But the story doesn’t end there.
Although it was a “fee simple” acquisition, some disgruntled property owners, who’d long illegally encroached on the right of way, took exception to the plan to build a trail for public access to the Delaware River. They fought with the city of Philadelphia for years, finally accepting a marginal increase in compensation after a decade of litigation.
Phase One of the trail had been completed years before and now, at last, two miles of trail bisecting Lardner’s Point Park and connecting two river boat launch sites at Frankford and Tacony is fully open for the public’s enjoyment.
An audacious idea first articulated in the 2000s – a recreational trail and string of parks along the post-industrial Delaware River from Port Richmond to Glen Foerd with 11 miles of continuous trail and two totally new parks and four revitalized ones — is nearly realized. Construction of the new Bob Borski Bridesburg Park will break ground in October is the final pearl in the string to be added, and plans are being finalized for the revitalized “human-powered” boat launch park at Tacony’s Princeton Avenue.
It is a pleasure to behold — and there’s more! The Delaware River Trail is a trunkline of the Circuit Trails network of 800 miles of multi-purpose trails. Eventually, Northeast Philly will be connected to Key West to Down East Maine via the East Coast Greenway that is aligned through Philadelphia on this trail.
I must extend congratulations to Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department for seeing this through – it’s obvious the city fought hard to make this happen. Throughout the process, the Riverfront North Partnership that I helped found was “midwife” to it all! And of course, numerous funders dipped an oar to make it happen, from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to the William Penn Foundation, two organizations that are central to nearly all of our trail successes.
It just goes to show that great things do take longer — and are worth it!