Sorry, no cheesesteak stands.
No Pep Boys, no Philly Pretzels, no ACMEs either.
Yet here we stand in the middle of one of the top five most populous urban areas in the United States on a sunny Sunday morning with nothing around us but the sight and sound of chirping birds and a creek full of fall-colored leaves.
It’s the Pennypack Trail – a scenic ribbon which traverses Northeast Philadelphia and on up into Montgomery County.
While this 20-or-so miles of protected land has been around since 1905, it’s still overlooked by many who opt for more popular venues such as Tyler State Park in Bucks and Fairmount Park in Philly.
Yet Pennypack Park, which encompasses some 1,600 acres of woodlands, meadows and wetlands, could very well be the best of them all when it comes to running and cycling.
According to Wikipedia, the Pennypack Creek runs through the park from Pine Road to the Delaware River. The park has playgrounds, hiking and bike trails, and bridle paths for horseback riding.
In addition, there’s another five-mile segment along the Pennypack Creek which runs from Lorimer Park up to Woodmont Mansion.
Much of the trail is paved, with rolling hills, and challenging for road bikes. There are also plenty of miles with crushed stone/clay for mountain and hybrid bikes in the upper segments.
“It’s hard to believe the Pennypack Trail goes smack through densely populated Philadelphia,’’ said Harry Betz, who owns and operates Newtown Bicycle Shop.
“On the trail you’re surrounded by nature and don’t notice the concrete jungle which surrounds it.’’
Indeed. More than 150 species of nesting and migrating birds use the park, including the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird, the great blue heron, warblers, the pileated woodpecker, several kinds of seabirds, ducks, geese, hawks, great horned owls and the little screech owl to name only a few.
The Wikipedia site states that many historic structures remain intact throughout Pennypack Park.
Built in 1697, the King’s Highway Bridge at Frankford Avenue is the oldest stone bridge still in use in the United States. Pennypack Baptist Church, another of the park’s historic sites, was chartered in 1688.
The Verree House on Verree Road was the site of a raid by British troops. The trained eye can rediscover abandoned railroad grades, remnants of early mills, mill races and other reminders that generations of mankind have gathered in the “Green Heart” of Northeast Philadelphia.
“The trail is a gem, tucked into an unlikely corner of the city,’’ said Ger Brophy, an accomplished distance runner who hails from Ireland and now resides in Princeton. “And early on Sunday mornings, it’s a pleasure to see the cross section of people who appreciate the quietness of that path beside the water and the ability to connect with nature. Hearing the traffic go by on the giant bridges overhead only makes the experience better.
“That world exists in another dimension.’’
Fraser Marlow, a recent Boston Marathon qualifier, completed a 20-mile training run along the Pennypack this past Sunday and continues to marvel at this urban wonder.
“Pennypack Park is something of an oasis for runners in Northeast Philadelphia,’’ Marlow said. “The winding thread of the trail, punctuated by high-arched bridges and the occasional crossing of the creek provides plenty of variety while also providing a very linear end-to-end running path.
“And so you don’t have to think too hard about the course, and if your group starts to spread out, you know you will always find each other on an out-and-back.’’
Pennypack gets its share of visitors on weekends but the paths are wide enough to handle the traffic, even in the age of the pandemic.
“Unlike other parks (such as Valley Forge) I have never found the path to be overcrowded,’’ Marlow pointed out. “Unlike the Schuylkill trail, it is not favored by cyclists looking to set speed records.’’
Plans are in the works to construct a trail from Central Bucks/Newtown into the network, part of the East Coast Greenway project. Other work is also underway. Eventually that will hook up with the extension project already under construction.
“The extension from the Byberry Road trailhead to County Line Road is touted to open in the spring of 2021,’’ Betz said.
Imagine going all the way from the middle of Bucks to Philadelphia without getting in your car.
It will be all part of that Pennypack magic.
Delaware Valley Loop Series No. 1, 8 a.m., New Hope. Contact www.runsignup.com
Delaware Canal Half-Marathon, 9 a.m., Washington Crossing. Contact www.runsignup.com
Bucks County Marathon, Bucks County 5K, 9 a.m., Washington Crossing. Contact www.runsignup.com
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