Philadelphia officials dedicated a new boardwalk and trail on the Schuylkill River on Tuesday, a $4.2 million project that juts over an island to offer an elevated view of the nearby Fairmount Water Works, the Art Museum, and Boathouse Row.

Known as the Fairmount Water Works Trail and Boardwalk, it includes a pedestrian bridge as well as improved wetlands conditions for more than 200 turtles. The new segment marks the last leg of a series of renovation projects in the Water Works area. The updated trail and new 380-foot boardwalk connect to the section of the Schuylkill River Trail that winds 10 miles through the city.

Construction fencing, which had obscured the view of the river since January 2017, is now down. The ground-level trail was recently reopened, and the boardwalk was already being used by runners and walkers Tuesday.

The trail measures 520 feet from Lloyd Hall to the Fairmount Water Works. The small, elevated boardwalk crosses from the riverbank to an island and loops back, offering a new perspective of Fairmount Dam, Boathouse Row, the Schuylkill Expressway, and even passing trains. A trio of benches offer seating along two sections of the boardwalk made of steel and weather-resistant black locust trees.

A woman walks on the bridge of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s Fairmount Water Works Boardwalk and Trail at Boathouse Row on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
A woman walks on the bridge of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s Fairmount Water Works Boardwalk and Trail at Boathouse Row on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018.

Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said the boardwalk was designed to serve as a raised lookout and connect residents to the island for the first time. Separately, the old asphalt trail along the river's edge was ripped out and replaced, along with new landscaping that disguises a storm-water runoff system.

"I couldn't believe how well it turned out," Ott Lovell said.

She called it "Philadelphia's most beautiful new public space," joining other additions this year such as the quarter-mile-long Rail Park and the Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park, situated off a reservoir.

Ott Lovell said the boardwalk, trail, and landscaping were designed by OLIN, which has created parks worldwide. The project caps restoration of the Water Works area, which included, among other things, restoration of the Italian Fountain in 2013, she said.

The latest restoration included dredging 2,800 cubic yards of silt from the canal between the island and Boathouse Row.  It also included hiring a biologist to capture, measure, and weigh 195 endangered eastern redbelly turtles. Two wooden structures were placed in the water for the turtles to bask on.  Wetlands surrounding the island were cleared of invasive species and replaced with native plants.

Mayor Kenney called it a "historic renovation."

A woman walks toward the bridge of the Fairmount Water Works Boardwalk and Trail at Boathouse Row.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
A woman walks toward the bridge of the Fairmount Water Works Boardwalk and Trail at Boathouse Row.

City Council President Darrell Clarke said the idea for better use of the riverbank began during Mayor John Street's administration, which ended in 2008. Street used to run along the river, Clarke said, and wanted to see it developed into an accessible public space.

Debra McCarty, Water Department commissioner; Paul Horvat, commodore of the Schuylkill Navy; and U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans also attended Tuesday's dedication.

The boardwalk is accessible from Kelly Drive by turning onto Water Works Drive at Lloyd Hall, just past the Art Museum.

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