The brightly-colored mural at 140 College Drive in Pottstown is your signal to turn into the parking lot and bring yourself closer to the beauty and tranquility of Riverfront Park. This 60-acre public park offers a wooded oasis with biking and walking trails, sitting areas, a pavilion with picnic tables, an amphitheater for outdoor performances, and a chance to re-connect with the Schuylkill River, long a part of Pottstown’s industrial and recreational heritage.
The building with the mural is occupied by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, which manages the Schuylkill River Trail, a path that will eventually stretch 130 miles in southeastern Pennsylvania from Philadelphia to Pottsville. To learn more about the trail itself, see their website here.
While the Schuylkill River Trail Council manages the trail itself, various county and local parks and recreation departments maintain the parks through which the trail winds. In Pottstown’s Riverfront Park, the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for maintenance and stewardship. They are also the agency that handles the requests and permits for all the festivals and events that take place in Riverfront Park and all of the Borough’s parks throughout the year.
The Penn State study, recently done for the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, classifies Riverfront Park as a moderately well-rounded, large, nature-oriented park. The “well-rounded” part of that description refers to the opportunities it offers for physical activity, contact with nature, social connections, and feeling connected to the history and culture of the place. Before I read this study, I probably would have said that a trip to Riverfront Park allowed me to connect with nature and get a little exercise. But on a couple of recent visits – one on foot, another on a free bike from Bike Pottstown and Tri-County Bicycles – I found myself more tuned in to the possibility for social connection and the culture of the river than I ever had before. Here’s what I saw:
Families with young children walking and biking together… a teenaged couple walking hand-in-hand… a woman sitting on a bench, gazing at the water… a lone fisherman drifting past. It was a special treat to see an egret take flight in a low and graceful sweep above the water. I caught another glimpse of him at the water’s marshy edge a short time later. I hope you can see him in the bottom, right corner of this photo!
From my limited anecdotal experience, I would venture to say that the word is getting out about all that Riverfront Park has to offer. On a chilly day last April, before the parking lot was completed near the Heritage Center, I encountered very few people in the park. It was quite a different story in the past few weeks as college students, adults, families with young children, and senior citizens all took advantage of the many spaces and activities that the park provides.
Ideally, everyone would have a park within a half-mile walk (about 10 minutes) of their home. But communities also benefit from regional destination parks, and Riverfront is fast becoming one. The Park hosts the annual Schuylkill River Festival, a community festival that draws thousands of visitors and celebrates the arts, food and music, and also offers demonstrations about available recreational opportunities on the river. This year it will take place on October 9th from 11a.m. to 4 p.m.
Throughout the summer, the Ronald C. Downie Amphitheater is home to the Pottstown Arts and Cultural Alliance’s Sunday in the Park Music Series. It is also available for other musical events as well; just get in touch with the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department (see contact information below.)
Riverfront Park is the site of Pottstown Parks and Rec’s Halloween fun, known as Halloween Hijynxx and Shiver on the River. The festivities take place this year on Saturday, October 23rd from 4 – 9 p.m. and include children’s games, scarecrow-making, a magic show, haunted hayride and more, which can’t be beat at just $5 admission per person.
Come New Year’s Day, the river’s edge is the place to be for the annual Polar Bear Swim and Bonfire, also organized by the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department. Hearty souls must register and sign a waiver before taking a plunge in the river, with rescue crews nearby, of course. Afterward, “polar bears” and onlookers can warm up at a bonfire and scarf down a traditional Slovak meal of pork and sauerkraut, which is thought to bring good luck throughout the year. You can find Mercury reporter Evan Brandt’s account here. I also checked out this video posted on YouTube, and – seriously? – I feel a Polar Bear throwdown in the making. You just might find me in the Schuylkill River (for the first time in my life) on January 1, 2011!
So, how do you get to this amazing park?
I found three ways to enter Riverfront Park.
If you’re coming from High Street, head south on Hanover Street toward the Hanover Street bridge. If you’re on foot, or if you are able to carry your bike down steps, you can enter via the stairway shown in the photo and immediately start to feel like you’ve left urban life behind.
Or you can turn right onto College Drive to access one of the other two entries, which each have parking.
As noted above, you can turn left into the parking lot at 140 College Drive (the building with the mural). That building is the 1911 PECO generating station that has been, and continues to be, adapted to house the Schuylkill Riverfront Academic and Heritage Center, the result of a partnership between Montgomery County Community College and the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area.
Or you can drive, bike or walk into the park near the intersections of Keystone Boulevard and College Drive. Make the turn, cross the tracks near the overpass, and you’ll be in the park.
Riverfront Park is the newest addition to Pottstown’s outstanding parks system and, with its burgeoning programming, has the potential to become a regional destination with year-round activities that appeal to residents and visitors of all age groups and activity levels. I strongly encourage you to check it out, both for its current programs and also as the site for your next hike, special gathering with friends and family, or secret spot for daydreaming on a sunny afternoon.
Location: Along College Drive, between Hanover Street and Keystone Boulevard. Use 140 College Drive, Pottstown, PA 19464 to find it on a map.
Size: 60 acres
Suitability: Active and passive recreation for all ages.
Facilities: Amphitheater, small multi-purpose open space, river, internal trails, picnic areas/tables, picnic pavilion, sitting areas, people-watching areas, natural study areas.
Activities + tips: Shaded, paved path ideal for strollers, walkers, joggers and bikers. Some internal, dirt trails with small jumps that seem to be used by dirt-bikers. These trails are suitable for hiking, although there are no trail maps; if you give these a try, be sure to go with a friend or two.
Hours: Dawn until dusk.
Contact regarding park rentals:
Pottstown Parks & Recreation Department
Borough Hall, 100 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464
Click on the Department’s “Special Events” tab to learn more about upcoming events.
Follow the parks series at Mission: Healthy Living, Positively!Pottstown, Twitter (PositivelyPtown), Facebook, and The Mercury.
I park here at the trailhead and bike into Douglassville/Birsdboro and back (about 12-15 miles round trip). It is a nice ride, especially the first few miles in Pottstown, which are paved. I am especially grateful for the recent paving in the parking lot – a HUGE improvement over the old gravel, stone, and dirt parking lot. Keep up the good work!
Re: the ampitheater, it must not be visible at 15mph from the bike trail. I’ll have to walk the park on foot and try to find it.
Hi, Kimberly – the amphitheater is visible from the newly paved parking lot. If you look towards the river, it’s the grassy area that has several levels, like “natural” amphitheater seating as opposed to concrete or actual chairs. It’s nice for spreading out a blanket!