A walk in the park

Kath­ryn Ott Lov­ell, Fair­mount Park Con­servancy’s newly hired Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or, poses for a photo in Pennypack Park on Monday, June 13, 2011. Kev­in Cook / for Times

Like many people who grew up in a May­fair row home with a small back yard, Kath­ryn Ott Lov­ell looked else­where for re­cre­ation.

“Pennypack Park be­comes your back yard,” she said.

Lov­ell, who grew up on the 2900 block of Dis­ston St., walked the park peri­met­er and sled­ded down the hill near Aus­tin Mee­han Middle School.

Today, at 36, she has a job that al­lows her to make sure people of all ages are able to en­joy a park ex­per­i­ence. She re­cently was named ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Fair­mount Park Con­servancy, a non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion that raises money for pro­jects and pro­grams throughout the Fair­mount Park sys­tem.

The or­gan­iz­a­tion has raised more than $20 mil­lion since its in­cep­tion in 2001. That money is spread throughout the 9,200-acre sys­tem, which in­cludes 64 parks.

“It’s one of the largest urb­an park sys­tems in the world,” she said.

Lov­ell at­ten­ded St. Mat­thew Ele­ment­ary School and St. Hubert High School, gradu­at­ing in 1992. She earned de­grees in philo­sophy and com­mu­nic­a­tions at the Uni­versity of Scrant­on.

In 1998, she re­turned to Tor­res­dale and Cottman av­en­ues, work­ing as the dir­ect­or of in­sti­tu­tion­al ad­vance­ment at St. Hubert, hand­ling ad­mis­sions and fund-rais­ing. She left that po­s­i­tion in 2005, but she re­mains on the school’s board of dir­ect­ors.

Lov­ell had ful­filling times at the loc­al Cath­ol­ic schools.

“I cred­it so much of what I’ve be­come as a pro­fes­sion­al, a mom and a neigh­bor to my ex­per­i­ence there,” she said.

In 2005, she went to work as chief ad­vance­ment of­ficer for the city’s Mur­al Arts Pro­gram. She loved the job be­cause she was able to work for a non-profit group that could have an im­pact on city neigh­bor­hoods.

Her new job, which she star­ted in March, is sim­il­ar. She sees her­self as an am­bas­sad­or for the parks.

“The Con­servancy ex­ists to cham­pi­on the park sys­tem,” she said. “We can be a really great part­ner.”

Lov­ell lives in Fishtown with her hus­band, An­drew, dir­ect­or of sales for Ad­ven­ture Aquar­i­um, and their 3-1/2-year-old daugh­ter, Lucy. They en­joy Fishtown’s Penn Treaty Park.

Since tak­ing on her new role, she has toured parks and worked closely with Phil­adelphia De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation Com­mis­sion­er Mi­chael DiB­er­ardinis and Mark Fo­cht, first deputy com­mis­sion­er for parks and fa­cil­it­ies.

In that time, she’s gained a great­er ap­pre­ci­ation for the sys­tem.

“There’s great po­ten­tial here. There’s so much more we can do,” she said. “The im­pact that neigh­bor­hood parks can have on the city is tre­mend­ously ex­cit­ing to me.”

While folks in the North­east are fa­mil­i­ar with Pennypack Park, Lov­ell ex­plained that there are sim­il­ar jew­els throughout the city. She cited FDR Park in South Phil­adelphia and Cobbs Creek Park in West Phil­adelphia.

There are parks rep­res­ent­ing every neigh­bor­hood, she said, de­scrib­ing them as a “gift we’ve been giv­en.” Parks are an­chors of neigh­bor­hoods, in her opin­ion, boost­ing civic pride and prop­erty val­ues.

“A bet­ter park makes a bet­ter neigh­bor­hood,” she said.

Along with that bless­ing comes a re­spons­ib­il­ity, ac­cord­ing to Lov­ell. Too of­ten, she senses, cit­izens take parks for gran­ted.

The res­id­ents of Phil­adelphia need to be stew­ards of the parks, in Lov­ell’s view, and she cred­its the Friends of Pennypack Park and oth­er groups for provid­ing “in­valu­able” care, help­ing main­tain a sub­urb­an feel in a city set­ting.

At the Con­servancy, Lov­ell and her team pro­mote the park sys­tem’s role in the city’s over­all qual­ity of life.

“There’s a uni­ver­sal love for the park sys­tem,” she said. “We have to turn that love in­to sup­port.”

Be­sides seek­ing dona­tions, the Con­servancy has opened the Hor­ti­cul­ture Cen­ter for wed­ding re­cep­tions and cor­por­ate events, help­ing to build its cof­fers.

Still, the bulk of the money comes from dir­ect pitches to po­ten­tial sup­port­ers. As part of the ef­fort, Lov­ell edu­cates donors about park needs. She un­der­stands that she’s tar­get­ing many of the same phil­an­throp­ists as oth­er char­it­ies.

The park sys­tem’s needs are many, Lov­ell said. Some of the areas that need to be ad­dressed are main­ten­ance and sig­nage. The park looks bet­ter with clear trails. Ac­cess­ib­il­ity to pic­nic benches and re­strooms is im­port­ant. Among the vi­tal cap­it­al im­prove­ments is dredging of lakes. And the Con­servancy likes to fund en­vir­on­ment­al edu­ca­tion pro­grams.

The way Lov­ell sees it, a thriv­ing park can help a neigh­bor­hood that is at a tip­ping point.

Thus, the Con­servancy will help fund re­vital­iz­a­tion of the 87-acre Hunt­ing Park in North Phil­adelphia. The Ry­an Howard Found­a­tion, op­er­ated by the Phil­lies first base­man, already has played a key role in the over­haul. The im­prove­ments will also res­ult in a new field for Little Flower High School.

At the same time, the Con­servancy seeks to com­ple­ment good works already be­ing done in flour­ish­ing areas.

For in­stance, Lov­ell has already met with Tom Branigan, the new ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Delaware River City Cor­por­a­tion. She is over­whelmed by the beauty and serenity of Pennypack on the Delaware, loc­ated just north of Rhawn Street, 

“It con­nects people to the wa­ter­front,” she said.

Lov­ell be­lieves the Con­servancy can help rep­lic­ate some of the amen­it­ies of Pennypack on the Delaware all along the North Delaware Av­en­ue river­front.

“We have a unique op­por­tun­ity. The time is now to make the North­east more of a des­tin­a­tion,” she said. ••

For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it www.myph­illypark.org or go to the Fair­mount Park Con­servancy page on Face­book. 

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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