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If you haven’t heard of the Discovery Center in Fairmount, that’s on purpose.
Philly

If you haven’t heard of the Discovery Center in Fairmount, that’s on purpose.

The nature-based center in Strawberry Mansion is serving its community decades after being fenced off

The Discovery Center, affiliated with Audubon Pennsylvania and the Outward Bound School, offers environmental education and recreation programs for people of all ages. Programming focuses on the surrounding Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, which the reservoir sits in the backyard of.

The Discovery Center opened in 2018 with the goal of reclaiming the reservoir as a recreational, green space, and educational facility.

But if you have not heard of the reservoir and The Discovery Center, that is most likely on purpose. The Center wants to prioritize use to the surrounding neighbors who were cut off from its beauty.

The Reservoir park was built in 1889 and the space became a vital source of recreation for a largely black neighborhood. But by the 70s, water resources had drastically changed and the reservoir was closed to the public and physically fenced off to the surrounding neighborhood.

Philadelphia Outward Bound School Executive Director, Meg Wise, and Audubon Mid-Atlantic Education Manager, Damien Ruffner, explained the poignant effort to keep the advertisement for programming close to home in order to reach community members.

The main goal of the center is with local partners and non-profit organizations that aim to meet the needs of the community and make a natural space accessible and welcoming.

Wise said “it’s marketed particularly to our nearest neighbors, because we recognize that while this huge building has gone up, basically in their backyard, most people are probably not aware, ‘who’s in there, why are they there? What are they doing?’ We’re intentionally not marketing that citywide, but really trying to be strategic and focused on our neighbors.”

Some of the partners include the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia, Youth Bicycle Coalition, ProjectHOME, YEAH Philly, PAL, and Strawberry Mansion Learning Center, One Day At A Time, and NOMO Foundation.

When hosting “Discovery Days” in the past, Wise said “We’re glad that we did them, and we’ll probably do them again. Although they drew a broad audience, we found that we were missing some connection with the people who are closest to us.”

The reservoir has been saved from complete destruction by the city, the area is teeming with wildlife and offering the local community access to a beautiful, historic space.

The center held a successful first canoeing day, strategically advertised to the surrounding community.

Wise said, “Almost everyone I just remember this resounding just echoing ‘Oh, I’ll be back. I’ll be back. I’ll be back.’ Which is so exciting. And like, that’s, that’s exactly what we wanted to happen. It was really good to hear people say that.”


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Sophia Healy is an editorial intern with Green Philly. She is a writer and environmentalist from South Philadelphia and a graduate of Temple University. She enjoys exploring the nature of Philly and discovering the many opportunities the city has to offer. View all posts by Sophia Healy

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