Maybe it was because it was the first day that finally felt like fall or maybe it was just that everyone was breathing in some fresh air, but the excitement was palpable at Friday’s groundbreaking of the Discovery Center at East Park Reservoir.
Dozens of people gathered along a dirt road in East Fairmount Park for the ceremony to mark the start of construction of a 14,000-square-foot educational facility spearheaded by Audubon PA and Philadelphia Outward Bound School. The new center, with its proposed rock-climbing wall and tree top observation deck, is exciting in and of itself.
But perhaps even more meaningful to the city and residents of the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood is that when the Discovery Center opens next year, it will also be a chance for Philly to rediscover the 37-acre lake adjacent to it.
“When you talk about ‘discovery,’ it’s an interesting theme, because the reality is that we’re kind of rediscovering this area,” said City Council President Darrell Clarke at the groundbrekaing ceremony. Clarke grew up about four blocks from the site.
The lake originally started out as a reservoir when it was built in 1889, providing fresh water for more than 80 percent of Philadelphia residents. People like Clarke and Pennsylvania State Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown will also tell you that the reservoir was a popular recreation area for the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, where kids, teenagers, and adults alike could train and exercise around the lake.
But 80 years after it opened, the Philadelphia Water Department no longer had a need for the reservoir. In 1970, a fence was erected around the 50 acres of land and lake, officially closing it off to the public.
“People used to take family walks and hikes here, but when it was fenced off, it left a void,” said Tonnetta…