by Kevin Dicciani
More than a hundred residents attended a contentious meeting held by Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation at the Schulykill Center Wednesday night to discuss the Treetop Adventure Course proposed to be built in Wissahickon Valley Park in Roxborough, right off of Henry and Wigard avenues.
Many in the audience were vocal in objecting to the plan on a number of grounds including pedestrian safety and environmental protection.
But before residents began voicing their objections, Bob Allen, Director of Property and Concessions Management for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, opened the meeting by explaining the concept and its purpose.
“This is an opportunity to introduce citizens, especially young people, to naturalized park settings,” Allen said.
The Treetop Adventure Course is essentially a walkway through the trees suspended 50 feet in the air, equipped with wooden platforms, canopies and a zip-line. It will cover about five acres of land in the park. A parking lot big enough to fit “28 cars” will be built on Wigard Ave. for people using the course.
Allen said that the point of the course goes beyond just the adventure aspect and that it’s a “tremendous way to see a forest and a natural area. You see birds and squirrels in a whole new world, and get a new sense of the forest’s topography as the land far below slopes to the Wissahickon River.”
The physically and mentally demanding course is supposed to build “perseverance and confidence” in all that use it, particularly inner city youth, Allen said.
The course won’t be available to just anyone at anytime, though, Allen said.
People interested in the course will need to sign up in advance and pass a 30 minute trial to see if they’re fit to continue. Allen expects that about 100-150 people will use the course each day, which will be open seven days a week, from about 8 a.m. until dusk.
With tickets planned at between $35 and $55 each, the course could generate up to $50,000 a year in concession fees, although that number is speculative.
“This is not a zip-line course,” Allen said in response to questions about why the Wissahickon even needs an Adventure/Amusement course. “It’s a two-to-three hour canopy course.”
After the opening remarks, many of the people in attendance lined up to question Allen on the definition of “naturalized.”
“What’s natural about a zip-line?” one person shouted.
“The park in all its fragility won’t be able to sustain this type of course,” another resident said to Allen.
“Why do we need to add more ‘stuff’ to the Wissahickon? Isn’t it fine as is, as a natural park?”
One resident, echoed by many others, said that it will disrupt the natural habitat of the birds and mammals that live in that area and eventually drive them out.
“It’s a human assault on the park, and it will nibble away at park life.”
Allen responded over the crowd’s applause that it will have a “low density impact on the park.” He emphasized that it will not cause any harm to the trees or animals, as the course’s platforms and canopies will not be permanently built into the trees. He also said it will not encroach on any of the surrounding trails.
Another resident brought up their concerns with the traffic light at Henry and Wigard Ave., and said that this course will only add to the surmounting problems at the intersection.
“People getting off the bus cross the intersection and go against the light, which everyone who lives there already knows is dangerous to begin with. People run red lights there all the time. And now, with signs up and down Henry Avenue pointing out that there’s an ‘Amusement Course,’ people are going to want to check it out and drive down Wigard, and it’s going to be even more dangerous for students coming from Saul High School or people waiting or getting off the bus there.”
Many of the residents simply wanted to know why this course was going to be built where it was proposed to be built.
“There aren’t many areas in Fairmount Park that contain the types of trees suitable for the course,” Allen said, “and this just happens to be one of the areas where those trees are prominent.”
One resident responded by saying: “Because you need high trees – and you said you picked this spot because there weren’t many spots like it – don’t you think you should respect a spot where these types of trees are few and far between?”
As more and more residents and stakeholders lined up with their arms crossed to ask Allen questions, Allen was forced to reiterate many of the same points he was trying to make from the very beginning.
“Like I said before, this will have a minimal impact on the park,” he said. “Other cities have been successful in having these courses. There’s no reason it can’t work here.”
One woman walked up to the map on the projection screen and pointed at the blue circle that represents the area where the course will be built.
“This should say ‘Invasive Species Addition,’” she said as the crowd erupted in applause.
As for now, there is no time line as to when the course will be built.