Connecting at the Water’s Edge

By Maryann Helferty

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Late on a warm spring afternoon a few weeks ago, I walked along a newly restored tidal wetland and gazed at the young sedge grasses and arrowhead plants.  The line, “If you build it they will come” from the movie Field of Dreams passed through my mind.  Here at Lardner’s Point Park in Philadelphia, PA, both wildlife and people were reclaiming their spot at the water’s edge.

Earlier that week, the opening ceremony for the park celebrated the creation of 300 feet of shoreline access and four acres of open space.  After the ribbon-cutting, a visitor spotted a small baby turtle climbing up the fresh soil bank.  It was a red-belly turtle, a threatened species in Pennsylvania.  It had emerged from the river to welcome the park supporters, just as the early players from baseball’s past entered the cornfield ballpark of Kevin Costner’s dreams. A local water scientist reported that in ten years of boat surveys, he had not seen a young turtle of this species in this area.

Creation of the park was truly a Cinderella story, as the shoreline had been wrapped in a concrete bulkhead from its days as a ferry terminal, and was later fouled by an oil spill.  Over $500,000 in federal funding was dedicated to the restoration and mitigation project.

The ecological restoration of Lardner’s Point is about more than the re-emergence of a living marine ecosystem for plants and animals.  Along the industrial riverfront, open space is as rare as the threatened turtle. The design of this site features a fishing pier, connection to a bike trail and picnic tables.  Check out our podcast on the Lardner’s Point restoration to learn more.

These amenities bring a breeze of recreation to the dense, row-home neighborhood of Tacony nearby.  That’s why as part of the Urban Waters Movement, EPA is seeking to help communities — especially underserved communities — as they work to access, improve and benefit from their urban waters and the surrounding land.

As I left the pier, I said hello to a 10-year old boy carrying a fishing rod.  He happily reported that this was the first time he could walk with his grandfather and fish on the Delaware.  By reconnecting the river to wetlands and greenspace, the park was also connecting friends and family with great memories along the river.

With summer coming, how are you going to connect at the water’s edge?  May is American Wetlands Month, so take some time to learn how you can protect and restore wetlands near you.

About the Author: Maryann Helferty is a water quality scientist with the Mid-Atlantic Regional office of the EPA.  She has worked on groundwater and watershed protection in both the rural Pacific Northwest and the urban corridors of the Atlantic.  One of her passions is teaching urban youth about water through the poetry curriculum: River of Words.  You will find her this summer walking the water’s edge in the Wissahickon Watershed.

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