What a Rush

Benjamin Rush State Park gets its grand opening.

  • The ribbon is cut to officially open Benjamin Rush State Park.

  • A choir uses bells to sing patriotic songs at the ceremony.

  • A Delaware Valley Veterans Home color guard kicks off the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

  • A grand opening: Parkwood Civic Association member Lou Farinella (left) displays a photo from the 1970s of activists who wanted Rush to open while state Sen. Mike Stack looks on.

  • At long last: Philadelphia’s only state park, Benjamin Rush State Park, located at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road, is officially open following a June 12 ceremony. The 275-acre park features three miles of crushed-stone trails for walking, running and biking. Construction costs for the park have exceeded $4 million.MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

Work im­prov­ing Ben­jamin Rush State Park at Southamp­ton and the Boulevard was pretty much fin­ished in 2013, but last Thursday, it be­came of­fi­cial with a grand open­ing ce­re­mony.

A time gap between get­ting it done and say­ing it’s done shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing. Delay, after all, had haunted im­prov­ing the park for dec­ades. Park­wood Civic As­so­ci­ation mem­ber Lou Farinella re­mem­bers what was then called “By­berry State Park” was first planned in the 1970s.

After years of talk­ing, plan­ning, more talk­ing and then hunt­ing up the needed dough, loc­al of­fice­hold­ers star­ted things rolling when they used shiny ce­re­mo­ni­al shovels to lift some dirt out of the ground on a dreary day in Novem­ber 2012.

This year, an over­cast June 12 grand open­ing at the park named for a sign­er of the De­clar­a­tion of In­de­pend­ence was just a bookend to the story about 275 beau­ti­ful acres that look like they will be North­east as­sets for gen­er­a­tions.

“This time, it’s for real,” said a smil­ing state Sen. Mike Stack (D-5th dist.) as he and oth­er pub­lic of­fi­cials greeted a crowd gathered near the park’s new en­trance.

Stack thanked loc­al cit­izens and of­fi­cials for all they did to make the park’s new look a real­ity.

“It’s great to see all these fa­mil­i­ar faces,” Stack said. “This is a day that has been a long time com­ing and it’s a test­a­ment to per­sist­ence, pa­tience and a strong sense of civic duty.”

The brief ded­ic­a­tion ce­re­mon­ies, em­ceed by park man­ager Eric Ih­lein, began with a col­or guard of vet­er­ans from the ad­ja­cent Delaware Val­ley Vet­er­ans Home. 

State De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Sec­ret­ary El­len Fer­renti praised the com­munity in­volve­ment in get­ting the park work done.

City Coun­cil­man-elect Ed Neilson also thanked the crowd.

“At a time green­space is at a premi­um, this is an in­cred­ible achieve­ment,” said state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.).

Stack said sev­er­al groups — in­clud­ing the North East Phil­adelphia Ra­dio Con­trol Club, Friends of Poquess­ing, Somer­ton Civic As­so­ci­ation, Park­wood Civic As­so­ci­ation and the Ben­jamin Rush Garden As­so­ci­ation — pushed for fund­ing to im­prove the park.

The noise of traffic from the the Roosevelt Boulevard, which is only steps from the park’s en­trance on Southamp­ton Road, made some of last Thursday’s speeches dif­fi­cult to hear, but Boyle re­minded people “it’s quiet in the park.”

Cer­tainly quieter. Any­one walk­ing or rid­ing along the park’s trail will no­tice the sound of Boulevard traffic fad­ing in­to a hum.

In the years pub-lic of-fi-cials have been dis-cuss-ing im-prove-ments and look-ing for the money to de-vel-op the park’s acres, com-mu­nity garden-ers have been har-vest-ing their crops and mod-el air-plane en-thu-si-asts have been ra-cing their ra-dio-con-trolled planes.

Park vis­it­ors now can come in the new en­trance on Southamp­ton Road next to the Delaware Val­ley Vet­er­ans Home and ride on a fig­ure-eight road that is a far cry from the bumpy Burl­ing Av­en­ue that for years was Rush’s main thor­ough­fare for com­munity garden­ers and ra­dio-con­trolled mod­el air­plane en­thu­si­asts.

Beat-up Burl­ing, once an ac­tu­al street on city maps, was covered over to make way for the new road as well as a com-fort sta-tion, three miles of crushed-stone roads for walk-ing and bik-ing that will loop around the park, and sev-er-al park-ing spaces.

The cost for these up­grades was more than $4 mil­lion, and more will be spent, Ih­lein said later. Con­struc­tion isn’t really over yet.

Two bridges over the Poquess­ing Creek, the city’s bor­der with Bucks County, will be re­paired. One goes to Rich­lieu Road and the oth­er is Old Lin­coln High­way. Ih­lein said the bridges now are in bad shape. When re­paired, the spans won’t be open to pub­lic vehicu­lar traffic, al­though emer­gency vehicles and util­ity trucks will be able to use them. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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