Forty years ago, the Philadelphia Water Department discontinued use of a reservoir next to the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood. The 37-acre man-made lake located around 33rd and Oxford Streets, is now a nesting place for migratory birds traveling along the eastern seaboard.

Large lake

The National Audubon Society and Outward Bound (OB) have introduced plans to transform the lake and about 13-acres of land that surround its perimeter into the East Park Leadership and Conservation Center, a state of the art educational center. Members of the group met with the Parks and Recreation department this month to discuss pre-lease approvals, according to Katie Newsom Pastuszek, OB’s executive director. The group is on target to present their plans to City Council this spring. A best-case scenario would mean a new $20M LEED certified center by the end of 2015.

Entrance to the lake

If approved, the site would feature managed public access (because of its proximity to the water supply, even if it is unused) and present the rare grouping of two internationally renowned organizations with local ties. The East Park Leadership and Conservation Center would serve as preserved land for the more than 200 species of migratory birds that pass through Fairmount Park each year.

“We’re consolidating, collaborating and managing resources much more efficiently than if we were to build two buildings in the city,” said Pastuszek.

Current home for Outward Bound

Outward Bound is one of the world’s oldest adventure based education program. It provides more than 20,000 youths and adults with wilderness trips and training in 29 nations. Its Philadelphia location has been housed in the historic Sedgeley Porter’s House on Lemon Hill for the past ten years. In 2009, its staff decided it was time to expand into a permanent physical location. Around the same time, members of the National Audubon Society realized it might be time to think differently about the 37-acre reservoir they had been attempting to conserve for decades. One thing led to another and in January 2009, the two groups coupled and formed plans to create the conservation center.

Hopefully, this project will be approved and a new energy will soon come to this little area on the edge of Fairmount Park.

–Lou Mancinelli