Author: Patrick Bredehoft
For the better part of the last two years, I’ve garnered concerned looks whenever I start to talk excitedly about a floating boardwalk on the Schuylkill.
“There are great plans underway!” I exclaim to anyone who will listen. “Someday, we’ll be able to walk from the South Street Bridge all the way up to Walnut Street, on a boardwalk perched above the river!” As is often the fate of prognosticators and sooth-sayers, my promises for a brighter future have been met with fear, suspicion, and uncertainty, particularly if I make these statements to utter strangers whizzing by on their bikes.
Actually, I do not make such proclamations vocally, but I am irrationally excited about the Schuylkill River Trail extension currently under construction. The trail now ends just below Walnut Street, with a convenient overpass to access the nearby park: bikers are forced to end their ride in an abrupt cul-de-sac, while runners find themselves veering off of the river’s bank and filing back onto Center City streets. For those of us who live south of South Street, it’s tempting to wish that the trail would extend just a little further, although it’s also easy to understand why it doesn’t. At that point on the trail, the river bank narrows sharply as a more industrial set of buildings encroach, meaning that the only path along the river would quickly land you in the river.
That’s why this most recent construction project is such a thrill: they’re putting the Schuylkill Trail directly over the river. The boardwalk won’t float, but it will perch on pylons a few feet above the water, extending evening walks by another half mile, tempting fishermen into deeper waters, and royally freaking out my scaredy-cat of a dog, who has to be coaxed across even the sturdiest of bridges.
Over the past few months, every addition that has been made to this multi-stage construction project has led to some new thrill/temptation for me to shout:
- Wow, the pipe they’re using for that concrete pillar is HUGE!!
- Hey, the ramp is almost done!
- OH, MY GOSH, HOLY COW, THEY HAVE THAT CONSTRUCTION CRANE FLOATING ON A BARGE!!!!
So far, I have continued to restrain myself, but I don’t know how much more I can take.
I love to walk in Philadelphia. You can get nearly anywhere in this city if you’re willing to put in a half hour at a steady pace. I like that if you own a car here, you rarely need to use it. I also appreciate that the Philadelphia “Powers that Be” seem to nurture these pedestrian impulses. Only recently did I discover that you can walk (or bike) essentially uninterrupted from Center City to Valley Forge on the Schuylkill River Trail, and that when completed, this trail will extend almost 130 miles, from Philly to Pottsville, from the University of Pennsylvania’s campus all the way to the Appalachian Trail.
I think Ben Franklin would be proud of the face that part of his legacy was a footpath with the power to lead people out into Penn’s Woods, following the banks of a river that he hoped would one day become easier to navigate.
In Dutch, Schuylkill means “hidden river,” and, while I certainly advocate for keeping rivers wild and free, I think Ben had this one right: the Schuylkill is a river that should be easy to navigate, and easy for people to enjoy.
And with every passing day, the trail gets a little closer…