Vernon Park: A Green Oasis

Parks are welcoming green spaces used by rich and poor, old and young, and people from all faiths and walks of life.

(Photo credit: Emaleigh Doley, Germantown United CDC)

Vernon Park is central to the Germantown community’s health and future. Located between Germantown Avenue and Greene Street behind Chelten Avenue, Vernon Park has a long and illustrious history beginning with the donation of land to the city in 1890 so that it “should be forever preserved to the citizens as a public park . . .”.

Fast forward to the 1970s and 1980s, and the park is an inhospitable overgrown, poorly maintained haven for petty crime and drug dealing. The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Budget is woefully inadequate to the job of maintaining all the city’s green spaces. In 1993 one of the first Friends groups in the city, Friends of Vernon Park, was formed in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The park was dramatically improved, old collapsing structures taken down, a playground built and perimeter fencing installed. The friends group planted bulbs and maintained the landscape.

As the group aged and moved on, the maintenance deteriorated again. By 2009 a couple of neighbors were struggling to keep the group going without much support from the community. Enter the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, which selected Vernon Park as a site for a rain garden thereby adding another valuable site to Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters stormwater management program. After thousands of hours of volunteer labor, the garden was installed in November 2011 and “opened” by Mayor Nutter.

Friends of Vernon Park now had momentum and a number of interested parties. We revived the group, began regular clean-ups, and surveyed the park’s needs. We invited community members to regular meetings and asked what they would like to see in the park. So began picnics, family days, flea markets, and many co-sponsored concerts.

What happened next was a huge surprise. Vernon Park was selected for a major makeover. With Councilwoman Bass providing most of the funding and Parks and Recreation leadership, along with Pennsylvania Horticultural Society landscape staff, $1.2 million was spent on renovations in 2015. Working together with the Friends, many improvements were made — new LED lighting throughout to contribute to safety, completely new children’s playground equipment and safety matting underneath, adult fitness equipment, monuments cleaned and spotlit, string lighting above the main avenue entrance to the Vernon House, and numerous new plantings of perennials and shrubs.

Vernon Park is now a very popular place for children and families. Daycare classes come throughout the week, and it is a pleasant place for the seniors who walk through to the Center in the Park. In the summer, the park has a maintenance associate through a Parks and Recreation Program. In addition, the park is supported by thousands of volunteer hours. Students from the Crefeld School, William Penn Charter School, Germantown Friends School, Villanova University and others. We could not manage to keep everything so green and lovely without the many volunteers who join in the hard work.

The Friends have also acted to protect the park, setting up a task force to deal with a nuisance beer business at the corner of Vernon Park that was the source of most of the illegal, violent and littering activity in the park. We consulted with the police and our state representative on the liquor license and PA Liquor Control Board (LCB). Over a year, with the community’s help, we collected letters and petitions and finally testified at PA Control Board hearings. The LCB required the business owner to sell the license to a non-friend, non-family member and required that it not remain at that site! A big win for the park and the community!

Parks are welcoming green spaces used by rich and poor, old and young, and people from all faiths and walks of life. As a Quaker I can’t imagine a more rewarding way to spend my retirement time than making our Germantown park the very best resource it can possibly be and inviting others to join me.

Friends of the Friends Needed

If you’d like to participate in events, help plan programs, or bring fresh ideas, please join us at monthly meetings. Beginning in September the Friends of Mt. Vernon Park will meet on the second Wednesday of each month from 6-7:30PM at the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown in the Finney Room. (35 West Chelten Ave.) For more info, email us or visit our website or Facebook.

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