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 firstname.lastname@example.org