How Bartram’s Mile is turning a vacant riverbank into accessible greenspace
Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC) expects a recreational pier along Bartram’s Mile to be open for use by summer 2022, providing Bartram’s Garden visitors safe and equitable access to the river for fishing, wildlife viewing, and relaxing along Bartram’s Mile.
The rehabilitation of this old industrial pier came about during the 2012 planning phase for the trail and greenway, when the city and its partners held public meetings to determine what neighbors and trail users would like to get out of the space. The recreational pier concept was popular among the multigenerational population of anglers in the surrounding communities of Bartram’s Village, Kingsessing, and Elmwood, and across the river in Grays Ferry and Forgotten Bottom.
Heather Saeger, Director of Marketing & Development for SRDC, said Bartram’s Mile opened to the public in April 2017, but due to funding restrictions, the industrial pier was not rehabilitated as part of the larger trail construction project. Knowing that community members wanted safe river access, SRDC raised the necessary funding in 2017 and 2018 to hire a consultant to complete a feasibility study to determine which of the two industrial piers was best suited for recreational use and then worked with that same consultant to create the design documents needed to move this project forward.
“Pier work is expected to begin early next year and will include demolishing the unusable portions of the current pier; installing new pier piles, decking, and railings; constructing an ADA accessible, asphalt path connecting the pier to the trail; re-grading the riverbank surrounding the new pier for the asphalt path and to help manage stormwater and mitigate erosion; and installing a trash receptacle,” said Saeger.
SRDC continues to build upon the city’s initiative to construct the Bartram’s Mile trail and greenway, which turned a vacant riverbank into publicly accessible green space that provides riverfront recreation opportunities for surrounding community members while protecting and enhancing the Schuylkill River Watershed.
Saeger said the densely vegetated and naturally steep slope of the riverbank along the trail is limiting, which is why converting an abandoned pier into a usable recreational pier is so important for the surrounding community members and trail users.
SRDC is excited for the opening of the newest Schuylkill Banks segment, which extends Bartram’s Mile and its many benefits an additional 1,800 feet south to the vicinity of 61st Street. This new trail segment, known as Bartram’s to 61st Street, includes a large fishing platform, a creatively designed overlook, multiple stormwater infiltration basins, approximately 1.6 acres of degraded industrial land restored to a naturalized meadow condition, 125 new trees, over 5,500 square feet of lawn area, and 10,658 new grasses, flowering perennials, bulbs, and shrubs. This project is the first phase of a larger trail extension project that will eventually extend to Passyunk Avenue and a planned riverfront park near the Passyunk Avenue Bridge.
Caroline Winschel, Director of Development and Communications at Bartram’s Garden, said thanks to the leadership of many long-time residents of Southwest Philadelphia who have long come to the river to fish, Bartram’s Garden has significantly expanded their own free fishing programs in recent years, with free loaner rods and tackle, free drop-in neighborhood fishing classes, and a vending machine for live bait.
Good fishing spots along the Tidal Schuylkill are always in high demand, so they’re excited to have the pier restoration moving forward, she said.
Further south on the trail will be their new ecosystems education center which will be located along the trail by the Garden’s southern border. The education center is the Garden’s project while the adjacent freshwater mussel hatchery is led by Bartram’s close collaborators the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE).
At this point, both the ecosystems education center and the hatchery are in the design phase. “The Philadelphia-based architecture firm WRT along with industry specialist TetraTech were chosen earlier this year through a competitive joint bid process by a collaborative selection committee comprised of staff and Board members from the Garden and PDE as well as local leaders from Southwest Philadelphia and key stakeholders from the City of Philadelphia,” added Winschel.
Both projects will be built on previously developed land at the Garden, which is owned by the city.
“The science behind raising freshwater mussels at production scale for regional watershed restoration is itself cutting-edge. We’re thrilled and very proud to anchor this watershed-wide work on the Tidal Schuylkill in Southwest Philadelphia, using the ecosystems education center as a public space for the Garden’s 100,000+ annual visitors to connect with this groundbreaking scientific effort as well as to follow their own curiosity about the natural world,” said Winschel.
There is tremendous external investment and redevelopment taking place throughout Southwest Philadelphia at present, mostly focused on new tech and logistics infrastructure, and the Garden is aware of its role as a shared neighborhood green space and as the only safe river access on the Tidal Schuylkill.
The ecosystems education center and the mussel hatchery are just two of the major investments planned at the Garden to strengthen their mission of creating equitable relationships among people and nature. “For us, access goes beyond geography to ensure that these 50 acres and this riverfront feel safe, welcoming, and inclusive for everyone,” she concluded.
Photo: Schuylkill Banks