Sunday, June 21, 2015

FIELD TRIP REPORT: Washington Avenue Green
Saturday, 13 June  2015, 10 am

On an unseasonably warm Saturday morning, members of the Humboldt Society visited the latest park offering on the Delaware River Waterfront.  At the intersection of Washington Avenue and Christopher Columbus Boulevard is a wooden totem that marks the beginning of a multi-use blacktop trail.  An official plaque commemorates the now-demolished Immigration Station.  From 1870 until 1915, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Europe first set foot on American soil here.  The buildings have burned down, but much of the pier structure remains.  Thoughtful design has allowed the story to be told while attempting to provide a 21st Century remediation and interpretation.  

What is a river?  What part did it play in the history of this place? What has become of the abundant natural resources that drew so many here in the first place?  What is being done to right the wrongs of environmental opportunism?

The fish and shellfish, the trees and their fruits, the waterfowl and the songbirds are all coming back.  Most importantly, the water is cleaner now than it was when the SS Kensington and other ships docked here to unload their wide-eyed passengers.  

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation has worked to acquire and protect the land here.  They engaged artist Stacey Levy to tell the story of stormwater through her site-specific installation, “Dendritic Decay.” The pier adaptation was designed by Applied Ecological Services (AES), and built by AES and Neshaminy Contractors. It features a planting palette that combines native flora and their more attractive cultivars with long-established exotics.  They tell the story of riparian habitats in a colorful and sophisticated way.  The former Pier 53 that was home to the nation’s first Navy Yard and then to the rambling Immigration Station is now punctuated by another site-specific artwork, Jody Pinto’s “Land Buoy.”  This new landmark allows young and older visitors to gain an appreciation of the working waterfront, both bridges, and the river itself.  

On our two-hour walk, we got close up and personal with a number of vibrant wildflowers – black-eyed Susan, butterflyweed, yellow goatsbeard, bergamot, flower-of-an-hour, bouncing bet, and others. Canada geese dallied in the embayment while tree swallows played overhead.  
This is an open space that is an important landmark to visit any time of the year.  As the re-imagination of the waterfront expands south to encompass other piers, locals and visitors will be able to re-connect with the river in meaningful ways.  
Report: Michael LoFurno

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