By: Sam Hewitt, Instructor

On a foggy mid-February morning, eight Outward Bound Philadelphia instructors and a representative from the Schuylkill Headwaters Association, set out on a five day urban backpacking expedition. The purpose of the trip was to train the instructors on a new course type that Outward Bound Philadelphia will be running this spring and fall on a system of trails in and around the city. Simply called “The Circuit”, the trail system will eventually cover 750 miles of trail and connect neighborhoods, jobs, and schools all over the city with paved walkways.

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The route had the group hike and bus all over the city. On the first day, the group hiked from Lemon Hill in Fairmount Park, up The Schuylkill River Trail to The Wissahickon Park Trail just outside of Manayunk. There they entered Wissahickon Park and hiked along a snow covered Forbidden Drive to their campsite in Roxbourogh.

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On the second day, the group bussed to Tacony Creek Park near Juniata where they met with Alix Howard, from the Tookany Tacony-Frankfurt Watershed Partnership. Alix spoke with the crew about the problems that Tacony Creek, which empties into the Delaware River, faces with pollution and storm-water run-off.  Alix also spoke about possible service projects that future Outward Bound students could participate in like mussel surveying and storm drain marking in the surrounding neighborhoods. The group also met with Jason Sandman from The Scattergood Foundation who spoke about the management of portions of the land around Tacony Creek and had many ideas about how to involve the local youth community. He also joined the crew in their service project. The group pulled over 20 tires and various other pieces of trash out of a tributary that empties into Tacony Creek.

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After a relaxing night on the banks of Tacony Creek, the crew left the serenity of the park and re-entered the excitement and sensory overload of city life on day three. A few SEPTA transfers brought the group back to the Outward Bound base just north of the Art Museum. From there the instructors explored Center City and China Town on foot while experiencing some of the same activities that Outward Bound students experience. That night the Philadelphia Zoo opened their doors for a late night tour of the grounds and gave the group some well appreciated floor space, and heat, to sleep in.

With so many new experiences and so much new information to process, the group spent the morning of day four back in the office working hard to create routes and curriculum for upcoming Circuit Expeditions. That afternoon, they drove to Penn’s Landing and explored Old City while taking part in activities and games that focused on helping future students reflect on the complexities of urban living. The campsite for the night was Bartram’s Garden, on the banks of the Schuylkill in South Philly.

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After changing settings throughout the week, from city streets to wooded river sides, the view of the city from Bartram’s Garden put the whole course into perspective.  All of the people, places, and organizations the group encountered were contained within the city limits. Places that no one would think could exist in an urban metropolis, like Tacony Creek Park, Wissahickon Park, and Bartram’s Garden, are woven into the very familiar sights of I-95, City Hall, and the Comcast Building. With the Circuit’s trail system gaining mileage everyday, there is growing opportunity to get out and enjoy, and be stewards for, these places in your city!

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