|Traffic | Weather | Your account||Movies | Restaurants | Today's events|
Plan your trip
Flights, hotels, cars
Online booking and tools.
International travel info
Passports, money and more.
Local travel resources
Trains, buses and roads.
Yes, Northwesterners, Philadelphia does have an outdoors
PHILADELPHIA — Emily Kroshus grew up an hour outside the Canadian Rockies and a short drive from some of the most stunning natural sights in North America.
So when the three-time all-American runner graduated from Princeton University in 2004 and moved to Philadelphia for a financial analyst job, she was understandably nervous about finding good places to train.
"The trail systems are amazing," said Kroshus, 23, a 2008 Olympic hopeful in the marathon, whose house in the Manayunk neighborhood is within a mile of three very different trail systems, all of them along waterways and each loaded with the history for which this city has long been known.
Rowers flock to Boathouse Row near the center of town, the epicenter of rowing in the United States for more than a century. Birders relocate from Europe to Cape May, N.J., 90 minutes away, to watch the extraordinary migration. Elite bikers put Eastern Pennsylvania on a par with — cynics beware — Boulder, Colo., and San Diego.
"I know that what's available here is just amazing, and when I go to other regions I am flabbergasted at the lack of it," said Bob Ingram, 52, who bicycles, canoes, snowshoes, snowboards, runs trails in warm weather and cross-country skis in cold.
Most of this stuff is not new. The Appalachian Trail (90 minutes northwest of downtown) was blazed decades ago; the New Jersey Pinlands (90 minutes southeast) formed in a previous age.
But nobody seemed to think of them as two ends of the same region.
Recreation, magazine grow
Last summer, Ingram and a partner started a free regional quarterly covering a range of outdoor recreation. Now, Liberty Sports Magazine appears every other month and averages 56 pages of advertising, editorial content and listings, which Ingram says is a third more than the average of 40 similar publications across the country.
Both put a ton of material online. Liberty Sports' Web site, www.libertysportsmag.com, includes an exhaustive calendar of adventure and recreational events.
The tourism site, www.gophila.com/outdoors, allows travelers to search by category ("In and on the Water," "Nature and Gardens") and suggests itineraries ("Walking in Benjamin Franklin's Footsteps"). The many-layered site can surprise even the locals, from the Philadelphia Outrigger Canoe Club (boomers: think "Hawaii Five-0") to Southern Chester County's Goat Hill Serpentine Barrens (600 acres preserved to display the striking difference between rare, side-by-side habitats of bare rock and deciduous forest).
The marketing campaign was suggested (and funded, to the tune of $1.3 million) by the William Penn Foundation several years ago as part of its broad campaign to improve the region's quality of life. Perceptions of the outdoors were seen as key to attracting younger residents and building a constituency to support the parks.
It is also part of a wave of new thinking about the necessary ingredients for vibrant cities — diversity, challenge, creative opportunity — popularized by Richard Florida's 2003 best-seller, "The Rise of the Creative Class."
Disco golf and orienteering
Once Philadelphia's publicists focused on the outdoors, they found opportunity not only in running and biking but in disc golf (first permanent course in the East) and orienteering (largest club in the country).
Indeed, longtime Philadelphians, who have a reputation for cynicism, may be so used to all the choices that they think everywhere is like here.
"It's visible," said Clete Graham, commodore of the Schuylkill Navy, aka Boathouse Row. For motorists on the main drives along the Schuylkill — the river that these days may define the city even more than the Delaware — the backdrop is always rowers, runners and bikers, said Graham, 53.
Both drives are part of the Fairmount Park system, which, along with a plethora of arboretums and historic gardens, appears to be one key to the region's outdoors appeal. Another is what some describe as an unusual breadth and depth of organized groups such as hiking and bicycling clubs.
Bill Strickland, executive editor of Bicycling Magazine, who rates competitive bicycling here as similar to Colorado and California, cites the Lehigh Valley Velodrome in Trexlertown, an hour's drive north of Center City, as the strongest draw for elite cyclists throughout the region.
But it doesn't stop there.
"The bike culture in Philadelphia is also just cool," said Strickland, 41. "There's folding bikes. ... The bike messenger scene is pretty active. ... Mountain biking in the Wissahickon. ... The great (championship) race for years."
"When you start to look at everything you have," Strickland said, it forms "a really glorious sort of mosaic. "
And he was only talking about bicycling.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company