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Greater Philadelphia Waterfronts Overflow With Recreation Options

From Philadelphia's Fairmount parks system to the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor to the downtown Wilmington riverfront, Greater Philadelphia is awash in recreation options.

By Nan Bauroth on March 11, 2014

Greater Philadelphia is truly beautiful on the outside. The region overflows with outdoor recreation opportunities, from waterways to trails to forests and fishing that offer ample wide open spaces in the heart of one of the nation’s most populous regions.

One of the most popular outdoor destinations is the Fairmount parks system, which features 63 individual parks sprinkled throughout Philadelphia. Parks range in size from one acre to the 1,800-acre Wissahickon Valley Park.

“You could be standing amid the beauty of Wissahickon Valley Park and have no idea that you’re actually standing in the fifth-largest city in the United States,” says Barry Bessler, chief of staff with the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, which oversees the Fairmount parks system. “There are multiple cultural, recreational and athletic options when visiting Fairmount venues, including walking, jogging, fishing, softball, picnics, visiting historic houses, and charity walks.”

Prevention magazine has named Philadelphia one of the Top 10 Walking Cities in the U.S., noting that the Center City district has the largest comprehensive pedestrian sign system in North America. And Bicycling magazine has weighed in, naming Philadelphia as one of the Top 20 Bicycling Cities in America.

Peaceful Places

Among the region’s 11 national parks, green space, forest retreats and waterways is the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. A haven for boaters, runners, hikers, campers and picnickers, the165-mile trail of rivers and canals connects northern Pennsylvania to the Delaware Canal in Bucks County.

The region is also on the doorstep of the 1.1 million-acre Pinelands National Reserve in New Jersey, which offers serene rivers, picturesque parks and rare plants and animals. Greater Philadelphia region also featuresa number of world-renowned gardens, including more than 3,500 acres of gardens along with a small collection of historic mansions in the Wilmington area.

On the Riverfront

Wilmington has made the water a key focus of its development efforts. Its Riverfront district includes the new 200,000-square-foot Chase Center convention facility recently opened, plus a Westin Hotel and a 14-screen IMAX theater that will debut in 2013. Officials estimate that 700,000 people will visit the Riverfront district annually once the movie complex opens.

“Unlike so many cities that have tried to reclaim their former downtown industrial regions, Wilmington has succeeded,” says Mike Purzycki, executive director of Riverfront Development Corporation of Delaware. “Today, 5,000 people work in the district, 1,200 people are living here, there are 10 restaurants, a two-mile riverwalk, a park, children’s museum, wildlife refuge, baseball stadium and river taxi. The Riverfront now returns more than $30 million annually to the economy in taxes.”

Purzycki says 2 million square feet of construction has occurred along the Riverfront over the past decade at an investment of nearly $1 billion.

“The Riverfront has become a destination thanks to its outdoor attractions and many indoor amenities,” he says. “It is a true recreational and entertainment district for residents and visitors to the northern part of Delaware.”

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