A New Trail Will Reconnect Philadelphia Families to Their Local Watershed

The North Philly project combines hands-on nature experiences with early childhood learning.

The Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership hosts an April 2022 park cleanup day. (Credit: TTF Partnership)

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A new trail in North Philadelphia will give residents a chance to engage with the natural environment in a hands-on way — while learning about the local Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed.

The “River Alive! Learning Trail” will be set up later this summer and will be based on an exhibit by the same name at the Independence Seaport Museum on Penn’s Landing in Center City Philadelphia. The North Philly iteration will run down Cayuga Street in the Juniata Park area on a smaller scale.

The learning trail aims to bring watershed awareness to the neighborhood’s urban public spaces through a “playful learning intervention” targeting the area’s low-income communities, according to the project’s designers at Habithèque Inc.

“The River Alive! Project is a new and exciting way Philadelphia families can enjoy green spaces together while engaging with the natural environment all around them,” said Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell in a press release announcing the new trail, which was funded by the William Penn Foundation.

The 33-square mile watershed is one of Philadelphia’s five main watersheds, eventually flowing into the Delaware River. This project is the latest in an ongoing effort to engage local families with environmental preservation and neighborhood connections.

The new trail’s combination of the senses of touch, visual, and hearing will aid in developing cognitive abilities. A tactile water play experience includes all these aspects.

Philly-based visual artist Miguel Horn will design the animal sculptures to appear along the River Alive Learning Trail. (Credit: TTF Partnership)

There will be six stations along the trail, each featuring a distinctive animal sculpture, seating and signs with both English and Spanish for families to learn about the local watershed and neighboring Tacony Creek.

Miguel Horn, a Philadelphia-based artist who explores the world and its environment, will install six animal sculptures along the trails. The animals include a fox, fish, turtle, heron, watersnake and an otter.

Each sculpture will have a water spout as well as an animal song, composed by the Philadelphia-based social justice music and education group City Love, that is accessible by QR code.

“Nature is a powerful teacher for developing our most cherished human qualities of inquiry, imagination, playfulness, and self-expression,” said Victoria Prizzia, founder of Habithèque Inc, in a press release. “The vision for the Learning Trail is guided by research that tells us that young children learn through using multiple senses simultaneously.”

One goal of the trail is to give parents and kids a chance to engage with neighbors while fostering the development of early language and reading abilities.

Throughout the trail, signage will offer discussion starters, poetry and suggested games. Some of the messaging will be water-activated, visible only when it rains or when water is sprayed on it from a nearby sprayground.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, whose district includes the Juniata Park, said that the park will serve as an “outdoor nature classroom” that supports early learning.

“I am so proud that members of our community, including artists and youth, have helped to envision and create this rich educational area for our neighborhood,” she said in a release.

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Shania DeGroot is an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow with Next City for summer 2022.

Tags: philadelphiayouthparks equity

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