From Park to Arboretum: Schuylkill River Park Elevates Its Green Status
By Stacia Friedman
Residents of Fitler Square have a new source of pride in their community: Schuylkill River Park's recent recognition as a Level I Arboretum. Achieved in 2022, this accolade highlights the park as a significant green space in Center City West, boasting over 250 trees encompassing 50 distinct species.
You can view a map that comprehensively plots every tree in SRP here.
The Fitler Focus is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Earning the Level I Arboretum designation is more than just an honor; it represents a commitment to ongoing community engagement and investment. This ensures the park will continue to provide valuable health and recreational advantages to residents, along with opportunities for learning and environmental education.
What Makes a Park an Arboretum?
There are four levels of arboretum certification. To meet the standards of the Level I certification, the park had to achieve the following standards:
Create an arboretum master plan that defines the types of plants that are to be grown, along with provisions for the continuing operation of the organization with a clear succession plan.
Create an organizational group dedicated to the arboretum plan and its continuation beyond the efforts of a single individual.
Have a minimum number of 25 species of trees or woody plants. Label plants with their scientific name.
Provide arboretum staff or volunteers to provide for the basic needs and functions of the arboretum.
Provide public access and host at least one public event or educational program each year focused on trees or arboretum purposes.
A skilled team of local experts make up the volunteer leadership team. Their talents range from urban landscape design to science education to arboriculture.
Leading the team is Susan Kahn, an FSRP (Friends of Schuylkill River Park) board member and ISA Certified Arborist, who integrates these diverse perspectives to create an educational and sustainable arboretum.
“To meet the requirements, we hired an arborist to identify, map and evaluate the health of the park’s trees,” said Kahn. “We have removed some dead trees and pruned others. We planted a sensory garden near the playground with trees and shrubs that appeal to the senses. A ‘wildlife snackbar’ was installed outside the dog runs to support birds and pollinators. We also sponsor nature education events and other activities throughout the year.”
Plus, they are in the process of tagging trees for identification.
“The park is our neighborhood’s largest green space with a collection of nearly 200 trees,” she said. “The land is owned by Parks and Recreation, but their budget for tree work is woefully inadequate. As the leader of the neighborhood Pennsylvania Horticultural Society tree tender group, I felt that it was important to increase awareness of and care for the park’s trees.“
Kahn continued: “Our goal is to improve the care of our trees, make the park a more wholesome habitat for wildlife, and to make it a place where park-users and local school children can learn more about trees and their benefits.”
The educational initiatives of the Arboretum provide valuable learning opportunities for local schoolchildren and visitors. Educators from Greenfield School and The Philadelphia School plan to integrate the Arboretum into their teaching, with ambitions to create a program centered on nature education.
Other Philly Arboretums
Surprised that there is an arboretum inside the City? Actually, there are several. Besides Schuylkill River Park, other certified arboretums in Greater Philadelphia include the Philadelphia Navy Yard which contains 1,200 acres of trees; Mount Moriah Cemetery & Arboretum in southwest Philly; Historic Rittenhousetown on Lincoln Drive; and Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill which is a Level IV arboretum.
Yale Climate Connections, a publication of the Yale School of the Environment, found that urban trees, let alone an entire arboretum, improve one’s health dramatically.
They boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, reduce allergies, increase the ability to focus, accelerate recovery from surgery or illness, increase energy level and improve sleep.
This new designation promises to enhance the quality of life for residents, offering a verdant refuge amidst the urban landscape and serving as a dynamic educational resource.