(Photo courtesy of Friends of Harrowgate Park's Facebook page)
Before November of last year, Harrowgate Park had long lost its distinction as a desirable place to hang out.
“We used to do large barbecues in the park, but then the hookers and drug dealers took over,” said Heather Swope, a mother of four who has lived in Harrowgate, located northwest of Kensington, for 11 years.
“Four wheelers started to ride through there and it was terrible,” she added. “But when we started cleaning it up, they stopped coming, and now people are paying attention to our park.”
This initiative to reclaim the park is largely due to Marissa Rumpf, a newer resident of the neighborhood and founder of Friends of Harrowgate Park (FHP). One of 115 park friends groups in the greater Philadelphia area, FHP is a civic association concerned with beautifying and reducing crime in the Harrowgate area.
According to Rumpf, the neighborhood had been waiting for a group like this to emerge.
“There were a ton of people who were ready and willing and interested to take back the park,” said Rumpf, who bought a house in Harrowgate in April 2015. “They just needed an initiator.”
Much of Rumpf’s vision for FHP came from her schooling at the Citizens Planning Institute (CPI), a Philadelphia City Planning Commission program that offers courses on urban planning, zoning and development. With the encouragement of fellow CPI classmate Leroy Fisher, who had some similar work in cofounding Hunting Park United, Rumpf decided to enter Harrowgate Park in a Love Your Park event shortly after the initial cleanup.
“Even though we decided to participate only nine days before the event, we still had almost 40 residents show up,” she said. “And now we have a group that meets every month, a seasonal maintenance attendant who keeps the park clean and safe, and many projects on the horizon.”
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To publicize its meetings — which take place in the park — and current initiatives, FHP posts regularly on its Facebook page, makes announcements on PlanPhilly and circulates flyers to community members. Much of the group’s outreach also flows through Rumpf’s church, where she met Swope.
“My two girls and I help clean up the park every weekend,” said Swope, who lives one block away from the park. “After we had been doing it awhile we started attracting other kids on the playground to help. Now I bring some water and juice to the park and just say, ‘Let’s go!'”
Because the park’s playground equipment is only six years old, neighborhood children and their parents are some of the neighborhood’s biggest stakeholders in the park, according to Rumpf.
However, the neighborhood’s older residents have also recently shaped some of the FHP’s upcoming projects. One of these includes restoring the park’s veterans memorial, which is a statue of an eagle.
“At our first meeting, I gave everyone a piece of paper and asked them to draw the park. It was really interesting because residents of different lengths of time drew different things,” Rumpf said. “But central to the drawings by the older members was this eagle monument. I wouldn’t have known it was so important to them otherwise.”
Partnerships with other organizations have facilitated some of FHP’s projects and missions. For example, since teaming up with Mad Viking Mustache and Beard Company, which sells men’s beard care products, FHP has begun to beautify the memorial and make it more accessible.
“They adopted the memorial and are helping us maintain it,” Rumpf said. Right now, the memorial is a platform in the grass, and we want to connect it to the paths in the park. We also want to erect flagpoles, add more benches, and install a fence around the revamped memorial area.”
The Philadelphia Water Department is also currently installing several rain gardens throughout the park, the progress of which is being tracked on FHP’s Facebook page.-30-
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