At last, a new start for Ben Rush Park

For 35 years, there’s been plenty of talk about de­vel­op­ing Ben­jamin Rush State Park at the Boulevard and Southamp­ton Road, but not a lot of ac­tion.

On Monday, the talk be­came tan­gible as ce­re­mo­ni­al shovels broke ground for $2.4 mil­lion in park im­prove­ments that will in­clude bik­ing and hik­ing trails, wa­ter and sew­er sys­tems, a com­fort sta­tion, a park­ing lot and a new en­trance on Southamp­ton Road. Ben­jamin Rush is the only state park in the city.

ldquo;This is a great day in North­east Phil­adelphia,” said state Sen. Mike Stack (D-5th dist.) “We’re fi­nally go­ing to open Ben Rush State Park.”

Stack was joined by City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill (R-10th dist.), state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.), state Rep. Mark Co­hen (D-202nd dist.), Park­wood Civic As­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Mike Hatala, state parks dir­ect­or Dav­id Kemmer­er and rep­res­ent­at­ives from neigh­bor­hood or­gan­iz­a­tions in thank­ing the pub­lic of­fi­cials past and present as well as neigh­bor­hood lead­ers who con­trib­uted to mak­ing the planned park im­prove­ments a real­ity.

Eric Ih­lein, the park’s man­ager said con­tract­or J.D. Mor­ris­sey will be­gin work at the end of this month and is ex­pec­ted to fin­ish in eight months. The park will be closed to the pub­lic dur­ing con­struc­tion.

In the years pub­lic of­fi­cials have been dis­cuss­ing im­prove­ments and look­ing for the money to de­vel­op the park’s 275 acres, com­munity garden­ers have been har­vest­ing their crops and mod­el air­plane en­thu­si­asts have been ra­cing their ra­dio-con­trolled planes. They’re not go­ing to lose any­thing when the park re­opens.

What they — and every­body else — will gain:

• A new park en­trance off Southamp­ton Road that will re­place the old en­trance off the north­bound lanes of the Boulevard onto Burl­ing Av­en­ue, which will be covered over.

•  A com­fort sta­tion with six toi­lets.

• Al­most three miles of crushed-stone roads for walk­ing and bik­ing that will loop around the park.

• Sev­er­al park­ing spaces. The park cur­rently has none.

“This is go­ing to be a won­der­ful park,” Stack said.

The sen­at­or said the idea of de­vel­op­ing the land, once part of Phil­adelphia State Hos­pit­al, or By­berry, began dur­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Gov. Milton Shapp. O’Neill said neigh­bor­hood rep­res­ent­at­ives par­ti­cip­ated in an ad­vis­ory coun­cil years ago, and that they wanted the park to fo­cus on pass­ive re­cre­ation.

A park im­prove­ment plan was in­tro­duced to neigh­bors in the sum­mer of 2009, and money sup­posedly was set aside at the end of 2010.

“This plan was ex­actly what the com­munity said it wanted,” O’Neill said. “We didn’t screw this up.”

Find­ing the money to do the work and ac­tu­ally do­ing the work took time, Stack said. It just kept be­ing one more thing that had to be done, he said.

The nitty-gritty of the plan­ning and the bid­ding didn’t be­gin un­til after the fund­ing was set aside, Kemmer­er said be­fore the ce­re­mony star­ted Monday morn­ing. The state’s plan­ning work in­cluded get­ting en­gin­eer­ing per­mits, a storm wa­ter plan and plans for wa­ter and sew­er pipes and a fire hy­drant, Ih­lein said. 

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

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