Philly's First River Boardwalk Connects Schuylkill River Trail to South Street Bridge

The Jersey Shore isn't the only place where you can take a stroll on the boardwalk

Runner, walkers and bikers, rejoice – that project over the Schuylkill River you’ve seen being built for years has finally coming to fruition.

Dignitaries, organizers and neighbors gathered Thursday to officially unveil the sparkling new Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk – the first of its kind in the City of Brotherly Love.

“People along the trail have been asking about it,” said Schuylkill River Development Corporation director for capital program Lane Fike. “People were coming up and talking to you saying, ‘this is so exciting,’ ‘I can’t believe it’s in Philadelphia, this looks like something in New York.’ Everybody said ‘we can’t wait for it to be open.'

"It's going to bring a lot of people down to the trail."

The 2,000-foot boardwalk, which connects the Schuylkill River Trail from Locust Street to the South Street Bridge, took nearly two and half years to construct at a cost of nearly $18 million to build.

Fike said the money came from a combination of federal and state funds including nearly half from a first-phase Tiger Grant, a federal stimulus project grant.

The grant came due to a joint request from the SRDC, Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition and other groups, Fike said.

“We got about seven or eight projects here in the city and the biggest one was the Boardwalk and we got about $8 or $9 million out of that Tiger Grant,” said Fike. “There was very little, if any, city money at all.”

The boardwalk, designed by Conshohocken, Pennsylvania-based URS, might look like wood but the boards are actually concrete.

“We couldn’t have wood out there,” said Fike. “So we put a concrete deck on it and we put on what they call a ‘broom finish,’ where you take a stiff broom across the deck to roughen it up and then we actually ran a piney rake – it looks almost like a garden rake but has flexible pines on it – and it produced a pattern of a boardwalk similar to Atlantic City.”

The concrete span can withstand floods, ice and heavy rains. The lights also should keep working no matter what Mother Nature brings including large logs, branches and other debris that sometimes comes down the river and winds up on the trail.

“You design for the worst-case scenario,” said Fike. “The thought with the boardwalk was to design a railing, more like a guardrail, that if these branches and logs come down they are going to bounce off the rail and go back in the river.”

The boardwalk also includes a solar light system designed to work even when the boardwalk is underwater.

Expect further expansion of the Schuylkill River Trail, which currently runs from Valley Forge to Center City, in the coming years.

The plan is to eventually run the trail all the way down to Fort Mifflin in South Philadelphia but in the coming years the SRDC would like to build part of the trail on land in hopes of reaching Bartram’s Garden on the other side of the river is Southwest Philly, Fike said.

The trail officially opened Thursday morning with ribbon cutting ceremony featuring Mayor Michael Nutter, City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, SRDC officials and engineers. A community celebration is also planned for 1 p.m. Sunday.

But before those events, a sold out, pre-grand opening walk was held Wednesday night as 200 people became the first to go across the boardwalk.

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