Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Exploring the Uplands Hiking Trails of East and West Fairmount Parks

by Brian Schwarz

For the past six weeks, I have been exploring the uplands trails of East Fairmount Park. And today, inspired by The New Fairmount Park plan presented last night by the folks at Penn Praxis in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, I decided to check out some of the trails of the West Fairmount Park uplands as well. Here's a list of the Fairmount Park trails I've identified so far:

East Fairmount Park Trails

Lemon Hill Trail (Fairmount Avenue to Girard Avenue)

Uplands view from the Lemon Hill Trail of the Shuylkill River Trail below
This trail starts inconspicuously near the corner of Fairmount Avenue along Kelly Drive. Take the dirt path between Kelly Drive and Pennsylvania Avenue until it leads into the woods at 27th Street. At the 29th Street pedestrian bridge, turn left down hill, cross Sedgley Drive, and continue into the woods in front of Lemon Hill Mansion. This single-track dirt trail takes you along the escarpment between Lemon Hill and Kelly Drive, popping out of the woods only briefly between Oshanter Drive and the Lemon Hill Gazebo overlooking the Schuylkill River. It continues in the woods behind the gazebo all the way to the base of the steps at Girard Bridge. It ends here, but if you cross under the bridge you will find Glendinning Rock Garden just beyond Brewery Hill Drive.

Glendinning-Cliffs Trail (Girard Avenue to Reservoir Drive)

Cliffs mansion, in Sedgley Woods, along the Glendinning-Cliffs Trail
This trail begins at the Glendinning Rock Garden near the intersection of Kelly and Brewery Hill drives and leads up through Sedgley Woods to the abandoned Cliffs mansion, ending along Reservoir Drive at 33rd Street. Take the path that leads up to a doorway in an old stone wall, taking the stairs up to the top, and continue on the trail that leads up and to the left. At the top of this hill there is a veritable spiderweb of trails, but there is an outer ring trail you will follow out to the Schuylkill River overlook and then back along the railroad tracks. When the trail dips down and you see an entrance to the tracks, take it. Take the railroad tracks trail to the left, crossing under the railroad bridge. Then, look on the opposite side of the tracks for a trail that leads up into Sedgley Woods. Take this trail to the top of the hill where you will find a meadow. At the northwest corner of the meadow you find the Cliffs mansion. The trail continues out of the northeast corner of the meadow, where you will pass through the disc golf course and exit at the border between Sedgley Woods Disc Golf Course and the Strawberry Green Driving Range.

Boxers Trail (Reservoir Drive to Strawberry Bridge and Kelly Drive)

Mount Pleasant mansion as seen from the Boxers Trail, East Fairmount Park
The Boxers Trail is an amalgam of paved multi-use trail and gravel cart path that extends from Reservoir Drive at 33rd Street all the way to Strawberry Bridge. Follow the paved path past Sedgley Woods and Smith Playground & Playhouse, until it cuts across a field toward Fountain Green Drive. Near the base of Fountain Green, a gravel cart path enters the woods and continues along behind Mount Pleasant and several other historic homes before coming out of the woods again at the corner of Reservoir and Randolph drives. The Boxers Trail returns to pavement, arching around Randolph Drive between Laurel Hill Mansion and Edgley Field, continuing on to Strawberry Mansion. Behind Strawberry Mansion, the trail continues down two sets of steps, the first leading to Strawberry Bridge, and the second leading all the way to Kelly Drive.

West Fairmount Park Trails

Chamonix Woods Trail (Greenland Road to Falls Road)

"Brown Bear Stump" along the Chamonix Woods Trail, West Fairmount Park
This hilly run goes from Greenland Road, just west of Martin Luther King Drive, and leads up through Chamonix Woods to Chamonix Mansion. Enter the woods on the south side of Greenland Drive, then take the trail that hooks back and passes through a stone arch bridge. Continue on this wide trail - a former cart path or remnants of an old trolley line perhaps - as it sidles the Schuylkill Expressway. Just as the trail begins to go uphill, notice a single-track dirt path crosses it. The high trail goes to the left, passing by Chamonix Ball Fields, and the low trail goes to the right. Both will eventually join up again and take you all the way up to Chamonix Mansion. Cross the cul-de-sac, and the Chamonix Woods Trail continues down an old cart path, across an old stone bridge, where it turns sharply onto a smaller trail to the right. Continue on this path to its terminus near the intersection of Falls Road and Neill Drive.

Chamonix Creek Trail (Chamonix Drive to Ford Road)

Beneath the old stone bridge along the Chamonix Creek Trail
Across the cul-de-sac from Chamonix Mansion, located a few feet to the right of the cart path portion of the Chamonix Woods Trail, you will find a trail that is blazed bright orange and unofficially maintained by rogue mountain-bikers. According to locals, mountain bikers came in at night and blazed this overgrown historic trail by pruning back weeds and painting bright orange stripes on trees. Follow the orange blazed trail as it leads down to Chamonix Creek and continues as it passes beneath an old stone bridge (over which the aforementioned cart path passes) and continues to a spot along Ford Road just north of Chamonix Drive.

NOTE: Stay tuned for updates on this page, as I will add to it whenever I discover new trails and trail connectors - including the trails of the Belmont Plateau and West Park Wetlands.

PennPraxis Unveils Conceptualized Fairmount Park Trail Network Map

This is what I've been waiting for - a trail map to include all the single-track dirt trails and other pedestrian routes of Fairmount Park - both East Fairmount Park and West Fairmount Park. Of course, this conceptualized Fairmount Park Trail Map isn't EXACTLY what I've been looking for, but it's a start.

Conceptualized, future-minded, connected Fairmount Park Trail Map
I'm heading out today to explore, and I hope to find out how much of this map is future-minded and how much of the trail system can be followed at present. Meanwhile, I'd like to thank the folks at PennPraxis for their plan titled, "The New Fairmount Park". This picture was snagged from said plan and posted here for anyone, like me, who may otherwise be unsuccesfully Googling for any Fairmount Park Map to follow. Hope it helps you #FindYourPath, Philadelphia!

Plan for "The New Fairmount Park" highlights creeks, pedestrian flow

The New Fairmount Park plan presented last night by the folks at Penn Praxis in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department is exciting, if a bit ambitious. During my years as a journalist, I would have attended the event at Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse with hardwired skepticism, but while I have my concerns as to how this noble plan will be carried out, I have to say, as an outdoors fitness buff and frequent parks user, I cannot hold back my enthusiasm as I click through the interactive online PDF featuring this amazing new vision for Fairmount's East and West Parks.

Glendinning Rock Garden steps - part of planned Fairmount Park trail network?
Here are the two plan highlights that excite me the most:

1. Pedestrians in Focus: The plan calls to "tame the roads" and "connect the trails". The vision includes a linked trail system (yay!) and would aim to create pedestrian-friendly crossings along the speedy traffic thoroughfares of Kelly Drive, Martin Luther King Drive, and the Schuylkill Expressway. Traffic studies are in order, but at first glance - wow! Imagine a redesigned Interstate 76 that's lifted to allow pedestrians pass through through a natural, riparian environment from the main park areas to the river! (Of course I'd ask you to do this while trying NOT to imagine the nightmare such a redesign would cause on this already terribly congested highway.) It's nice to think in what-ifs, but at present that kind of stuff is for the long term vision - personally, I'd be psyched even if they can only achieve putting in signed crosswalks with flashers at key points along Kelly Drive and open the rail bridge to link East and West Parks at the Boxers Trail over the short and medium terms.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter speaks to Fairmount Park constituents 
2. Watershed in Focus: The New Fairmount Park vision intends to highlight the existing natural features of East and West parks - in particular the 16 creeks that filter through them on their way to the Schuylkill River, the primary water feature around which the parks were formed. The Fairmount is a unique park in that it was built around a need to protect the city's water - as such it's a "watershed park". Trails would lead folks in nearby communities to the river by linking providing trail access along these protected riparian environments. What a great way to improve understanding among local residents that trash they sweep into the storm drains ends up in the water they drink, adding to the costs of treatment and filtration as well as putting the water supply at risk.

There is much more to be excited about, too - this is just a teaser! I will be reporting on it here as I delve deeper into the report. Stay tuned as I go out into the park and explore the areas the report intends to change.

Obesity is a global health concern. In the United States, obesity has reached epidemic proportions. The experts agree that the best way to tackle the obesity epidemic is through prevention. As such, the goal of Hiking Megalopolis is to work with existing park management, recreation and stewardship organizations that serve the Philadelphia Mega (including the City of Philadelphia, Southeast Pennsylvania, South Jersey, Northern Delaware and Northeastern Maryland) to develop integrated solutions to the obesity epidemic by engaging communities and by highlighting and reinforcing existing connections between nature and healthy lifestyles by promoting ideals of sustainable pedestrian pathways in urban design.

Brian Schwarz is an award-winning journalist whose career was derailed by super obesity. He fought his way back to health - losing 165 pounds in the process of his "fit-life journey". A professional communicator, educator and coach by trade, and activator by nature, Brian's personal mission is to inspire others live their fullest lives. Follow Brian on Instagram (@fitlifechronicles) and Twitter (@myfitlife2day).