Fairmount Park Answers Call of the Wild
Visitors to Philadelphia have a surplus of attractions vying for their attention: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Franklin Institute…just to name a few. But thanks to preservationist-minded forebears, Philadelphia also sports one of the finest municipal parks in the country, which provides locals and tourists alike with a multitude of opportunities for recreation and education.
What locals call Fairmount Park is actually a 9,200-acre (3,723-hectare) system that encompasses multiple park areas with recreational trails, sports fields, golf courses, environmental centers, playgrounds and historic buildings. Spread throughout the city, the park is a haven for anyone wanting to delight in the out-of-doors. It’s especially welcoming for visiting families, as much of the park’s amenities are free and a welcome respite for children (and parents) needing unstructured space.
A few of the park’s family-friendly options:
- Lloyd Hall, located on the city’s famed Boathouse Row on Kelly Drive, is a recreation center with open basketball and volleyball courts. Visitors can rent bikes or skates to use on nearby trails, or even try their hand at summertime rowing on the adjacent Schuylkill River during a city-sponsored camp. If more refreshment is needed, the locally run Cosmic Café – one of the park system’s seven eateries – has a menu featuring breakfast and deli sandwiches, smoothies and barbecue.
- Fox Chase Farm, in Northeast Philadelphia, is a 112-acre working farm where Saturday open houses let visitors get up close and personal with cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens. Operated cooperatively by the School District of Philadelphia and the Fairmount Park Commission, the farm hosts special events throughout the year, including Sheep Shearing Day, Apple Fest and spring and fall open houses. Or stop by on a designated Wednesday night for a hayride!
- Originally dedicated as a bird sanctuary in the mid-20th century, Pennypack Environmental Center, near Fox Chase Farm, now encourages visitors to experience the outdoors as naturalist Henry David Thoreau might recommend: through watching, sitting and dwelling. Experience an artist’s re-creation of Thoreau’s hut (with precise dimensions) and Bird Blind, an observation structure resembling a woven nest.
- Bartram’s Garden is situated on a tract of land purchased in 1728 by John Bertram, Royal Botanist to King George III and widely regarded as America’s first naturalist, owing to his significant efforts to collect seeds and plant specimens from throughout North America. Boasting an 8-acre (3-hectare) botanic garden, a nursery and garden shop, visitors are welcome to self-guided tours and may picnic in Bartram Meadow, where a spectacular view of the city’s skyline is free of charge.
- Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse oozes energy. The historic playspace, which first opened in 1899, boasts a variety of age-appropriate and appealing activities and play structures on a cushioned surface that’s kind to little knees. The highlight of the playground – and something that even adults can enjoy – is the Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide, a covered polished wood treat complete with burlap sacks for gliding.
Additional attractions abound within the park, including the Fairmount Water Works, built in the early 19th century to supply safe drinking water to the growing city; Chamounix Mansion, the first urban youth hostel in America where lodging can still be found; and Memorial Hall, the only major building that remains from the 1876 Centennial Exposition and home to the Please Touch Museum. Given the variety and expansiveness of Fairmount, visitors have a chance to breathe in Philadelphia’s spirit in a totally unexpected way.