David Bower explains William Penn’s initial vision of Philadelphia as a city with parks sprinkled throughout its neighborhoods.
“Penn gave instructions to his people to lay out a map,” says Bower, volunteer coordinator at Friends of Vernon Park. "He told them to make it a ‘greene country towne.’”
Bower, a veteran of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, says this vision has stayed with the city, and is embodied by its Love Your Park program, which encourages people to volunteer in service events at green spaces across Philadelphia. The program, hosted by Fairmount Park Conservancy, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the Park Friends Network, began last weekend and will run through this Sunday.
Meteorologists expect rain on and off for the rest of the week, but anyone who doesn’t mind getting a little a muddy has their pick of the lot this weekend between volunteer service projects, bike tours, park beer gardens, stone age technology lessons and cooking classes.
Eating Your Hard Work
Or why not a mixture of the above? The Wissahickon Environmental Center (WEC) will be hosting their annual “Eating Invasives: Garlic Mustard” event this Saturday at 10 a.m., during which volunteers can help yank pesky greens from Wissahickon Valley Park. The payoff? Learning how to cook the unwanted plants up into a gourmet dish.
Garlic mustard is an invasive species in North America, meaning it is not native to Philadelphia land — colonists brought it over from Europe. The plant negatively affects the soil and outcompetes native species in such a way that it lessens the Philadelphia’s biodiversity. The plant, however, is delicious, event planners say.
“This my favorite way to deal with invasives,” says Christina Moresi, environmental education planner at the WEC.
Moresi will lead a group out with trash bags that morning and in the afternoon, will show her volunteers how to make a special pesto that uses garlic mustard in place of basil.
If you plan on going into Wissahickon Valley Park alone to forage for wild greens, Moresi recommends you, instead, don’t. She says give the WEC a call first if that’s something you’re interested in.
Fun fixes at Fairhill Square
Most of the events for Love Your Park, however, don’t include a take-home treat. The reward comes in the form of revitalizing your own local park.
For anyone who lives in the Fairhill neighborhood, the Providence Center will host a Fairhill Square Spring Service Day, so volunteers can lay mulch, plant flowers, pull weeds (don’t eat these) and pick up trash. According to David Chiles, executive director of the Providence Center, the park’s public garden is currently undergoing restoration, so volunteers may get to work on that as well.
Chiles says a big part of their revitalization efforts are targeted at making sure it’s a clean and welcoming place for families.
“It’s a fairly well-used park, but we’re really trying to ensure that the park is being used for positive, and family-friendly and kid-friendly activities, and making sure that it’s a safe place for people to come,” says Chiles. “The more programming you have in the park that is welcoming to families and neighbors, the less unsafe activities are going to take place there.”
Chiles says he wants to change the park’s reputation through efforts like Love Your Park.
“I think the park has had a bad reputation in the past because some of violent incidents that have happened there or some drug sales that have happened there,” says Chiles. “Our focus and the community’s focus is really to turn that situation around and to make sure that the park is serving the purpose it’s meant to serve, which is to be a gathering place for the community.”
The organizers will be taking up to 30 volunteers, of which Chiles says can be from anywhere. He’d be happy to see people from outside Fairhill come help alongside his community members.
“It’s good to have those galvanizing moments where you have an event that’s bringing people out and reminding them that if they want this park to be all it can be, then lots of people need to chip in and help.”
Planting daffodils (and community) at Vernon Park
If you live too far from Fairhill, or your local park has a service day Saturday, there are plenty of options.
For residents of Germantown, Bower will host a Vernon Park Spring Service Day at 9 a.m. on Saturday, where volunteers can weed flower beds, plant daffodil bulbs, lay mulch, spread compost, rake leaves and pick up trash at the Germantown greenspace.
“What we’re trying to do is lift up the park, and lift up the community,” says Bower. “We’re trying to make the park safe, clean, ready to use, for people of all ages.”
After working at Philadelphia Parks and Recreation for close to 20 years, Bower has taken a more local approach to helping out the city’s parks. After retiring in 2016, he’s run the volunteer day at Vernon Park. He says Love Your Parks has grown vastly in numbers since its humble beginnings in the late aughts. Now over 100 volunteer groups host events for the program.
Bower said he’s learned an important lesson though in his time working in the park system.
“The city can’t do it all on their own.”
How are you celebrating your Love Your Park Week? Be PlanPhilly's Eyes on the Street: Use #LoveYourPark #PhillyParksLoveUsBack and tag @planphilly on Twitter to share your pictures for the compilation article.