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. ••