The Discovery Center, a nature-focused educational facility managed jointly by Audubon Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Outward Bound School, officially opened on Friday. Located in Fairmount Park in North Philadelphia, the Discovery Center will be a space where the two partner organizations will bring outdoor opportunities and educational programming to members of the communities that live near a storied Philadelphia landmark, the newly renamed Strawberry Mansion Reservoir.
For longtime residents of the adjacent Strawberry Mansion neighborhood who attended the opening, Friday’s festivities were the first time many of them engaged with the space in nearly fifty years—before its recent restoration, the entire area was fenced off from the public.
“We are excited and pleased to be able to welcome you all here today. It’s been a long time coming—decades of fencing, decades of not knowing what is behind here, and decades of loss from a place we loved and brought our families to,” said Tonnetta Graham, a Strawberry Mansion native, executive director of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corporation, and an integral figure in the re-opening of this sanctuary in Philadelphia.
“You are going to hear from some amazing people who are committed to environmental education, who are committed to leadership development, who are committed to saving places like this, not only for wildlife, but for us.”
“The first and most important thing to do is to just come out and enjoy this absolutely beautiful view. Most people in Philadelphia will never have seen this before because it’s been behind barbed wire for almost 50 years,” said Greg Goldman, executive director of Audubon Pennsylvania. “It’s a unique place to observe wildlife and an abundance of bird species in the Philadelphia area.”
Meg Wise, executive director for Philadelphia Outward Bound School, took the time to describe how both her organization and Audubon Pennsylvania intend to use the space. In addition to the students Philadelphia Outward Bound School and Audubon Pennsylvania will serve, Wise stressed the importance of the Discovery Center being for everyone.
“This is a public space and this is a space for everyone here,” Wise said. “As Tonnetta said, this is a space of respite, a place to learn, a place to connect to other people.”
“I am reminded here today of how many times people ask, ‘Why is it that nonprofits cannot work together?’” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. “Nonprofits can work together in partnership with communities they serve and do amazing things.”
Like its other nature centers in places like Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio, Audubon will provide free opportunities like nature walks and experiential programming for community members to explore the natural world in their own backyard. A primary goal of Audubon with the Discovery Center is to serve Strawberry Mansion residents.
During its nearly 50-year closure, the Strawberry Mansion Reservoir became a critical habitat for more than 150 species of birds. The common themes of wonderment and rediscovery throughout the keynote addresses were punctuated by cameo appearances of the birds from Fairmount Park.
Throughout the speeches, attendees got to experience the diverse ecosystem firsthand. A Red-tailed Hawk circled overhead and Wood Ducks in the reservoir caught the attention of people in the crowd.
“Walking over here is like an oasis that makes people feel better about themselves and where they are at,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “To have our kids have an experience like this is a wonderful thing, and does nothing better than to enhance their lives.”
At the conclusion of everyone’s remarks, the attendees made their way the center’s gates to officially mark the opening of the Discovery Center. Amani Reid, former Alliance for Watershed Education fellow and current the Discovery Center assistant, did the formal ribbon-cutting. The celebration carried over into the weekend with the inaugural monthly Discovery Day, which was filled with interactive Audubon and Outward Bound activities.