Plunge into New Year and the Schuylkill River on January 1st

Pottstown’s very own Polar Bear Plunge will take place tomorrow morning at 10:30 am on the banks of the Schuylkill River in Riverfront Park. Participating polar bears – humans in varying states of undress – must sign a waiver ahead of time.

All of the New Year festivities, which are sponsored by the Borough Parks & Recreation Department, begin at 9 a.m. with registration for the Polar Bear swimmers. At the same time, all visitors can participate in a card game that involves swapping cards with other visitors and getting to meet new people.

At 10 a.m., the National Anthem will be sung and the crowd will hear a few words from Mayor Bonnie Heath. The Christmas Tree Toss will begin and the bonfire will be lit by the Philadelphia Steam Fire Company. There may be a new event added, such as a fruit cake toss. Then, at 10:30 a.m., the swimmers will descend into the Schuylkill’s waters. Afterwards, they can dry off and warm up by the bonfire and purchase hot dogs and sauerkraut, which is supposed to bring good fortune in the coming year. is calling for partly cloudy skies and a high of 53 degrees. The river waters will definitely be colder than that. If you’re up for a bracing way to start off 2012 and want to be part of a community event that keeps getting bigger and better, get out to Riverfront Park tomorrow morning!

Squeeze in a visit to a park before the sun goes down!

Monacacy Hill Rec Area

It is an absolutely gorgeous day! If you’re reading this, you’re missing an incredible opportunity to enjoy one of the area’s many fabulous parks, playgrounds and trails before the next hurricane or snowstorm hits!

Please visit our Parks & Rec page to see where all the parks are in Pottstown and the surrounding area.

Last fall, Rosemary Keane and I visited all of them and blogged about them for the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation. We found so many gems, and trust that you and your family have, too. These pages have gotten lots of hits over the past year, and we encourage you to keep checking them out and discovering the great outdoor resources that our section of southeastern Pennsylvania has to offer.

Schuylkill River Festival now underway – don’t miss it!

Schuylkill River Festival

Saturday, October 8, 2011
11 AM to 4 PM

Come to the Park for a day filled with music, art, food, and educational experiences.

Join us for Free, Family Experience
5th Annual Schuylkill River Festival
Riverfront Park and College Drive
Montgomery County Community College
Pottstown, PA 19464

Open House

Visit the College Exhibit and learn about programs and opportunities at the Montgomery County Community College.

Children’s Activities

Moon bounce, crafts, horse and carriage rides, wildlife exhibits and more!

Music Festival

Live Music on the Downey Amphitheatre stage from 11 AM to 4 PM. Bring a chair or blanket and enjoy the show!

Arts and Crafts

  • View and purchase wares from great local and regional artists
  • View the “Scenes of the Schuylkill” Art show in the gallery at MCCC North Hall
  • Vendor applications still being accepted.—Application

Recreational Opportunities in the Park

  • Bike
  • Fish
  • Kayak or Canoe
  • Geocache

Community Information

Learn about opportunities and services offered right in your community!

Educational Opportunities

  • Native American Dancing and Displays
  • Cultural Exhibits from Various Groups
  • Environmental Conservation and Preservation Displays and Information

Food, Food, and More Food!!!

A great variety of sandwiches, desserts and more!

Platinum Level Sponsors

  • The Borough of Pottstown
  • Exelon Energy
  • Montgomery County Community College
  • Pottstown Mercury

Heritage Action Plan discussed by Council

At last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Borough Council heard a summary of the Draft Heritage Action Plan. There was a lively discussion about various aspects of the HAP, the collaboration that’s already underway, and the four projects that could receive implementation funding from the Schuylkill River Greenway Association. Council will vote on whether to adopt the plan at Monday’s regular meeting.

Below is a copy of my statement to Council. I had typed it and timed it; otherwise I would not have kept to the time limit or gotten in the many points I wanted to make. Tom Carroll followed up with some wonderful maps and graphics showing the planned Trail connections and extension, as well as details for the four proposed projects that are eligible for the $25,000 in implementation funding that’s available now.

Pottstown’s history is tied to the river and the railroad, from the Colonial era through the Industrial Revolution, up until today. Marketing downtown Pottstown as a Trail Town and a heritage destination seems like a real solid story to tell because it is real. It is authentic. And that’s what heritage tourists are looking for.

My presentation to Council regarding the Draft Heritage Action Plan:

I’d like to thank Council for inviting us here tonight and the Borough for having Tom and me work on a Heritage Action Plan for Pottstown. I’m going to give an overview and set the stage for Tom to show you the nuts-and-bolts of the next steps and how some of the proposed projects could look, on the ground.

We’re here because the Borough received a $2,000 planning grant from the Schuylkill River Greenway Association to create a plan that identifies, assesses, protects, manages and helps promote Pottstown’s heritage resources, all with an eye toward economic development and revitalization downtown. The idea is to get bikers, hikers and paddlers out of Riverfront Park and up to High Street, where they can spend their recreation and entertainment dollars, and to extend the Schuylkill River Trail on the existing bike lanes, down High Street, to the Post Office, down Madison Street and over to Pollock Park, which would become the new terminus of the Trail, heading east toward Chester County and Philadelphia.

We’re asking Council to consider adopting this plan and the general principles within it so that Pottstown can seek additional funding on the way to becoming known as a Trail Town and a destination for heritage tourists.

When we use the term “heritage resources,” we’re talking about the River and the Schuylkill River Trail along with the many other recreational, historical, environmental, arts and cultural resources that make Pottstown unique. The Schuylkill River Trail will eventually extend 120 miles between Philadelphia and Pottsville. It is well-documented that trails of this length become travel destinations for bikers and hikers interested in multi-day trips. These kinds of travelers are looking for authentic towns that provide one-of-a-kind experiences – whether that is local history, art, music, bed-and-breakfasts, fine dining or diner fare. Pottstown is going to be right in the middle of the Trail,and it needs to establish itself as a must-see destination among Trail users.

Probably the most important concept we could all take away from this plan is that Heritage Tourism IS Economic Development. Heritage tourism is just about a perfect framework for Pottstown to position itself as a lively downtown with arts, cultural and educational anchors that understand the historic link to the River and are proud of that and united in promoting it.

As to the plan and the process: we brought together representatives from the major organizations in town for a couple meetings and communicated with them via email and blogs. We got input on a vision, an inventory and assessment of Pottstown’s resources, and a ranking of projects that would be desirable to do if/when funding becomes available. Anyone who participated is known as a “Partner.” They are listed beginning in the plan. It is expected that the list of Partners will continue to evolve and that organizations and individuals will continue to collaborate and the Borough will tap them when appropriate to solicit in-kind services or financial support to do various projects.

There is some urgency in the Borough adopting this plan. Upon adoption, there is $25,000 available now from the Greenway and the William Penn Foundation for Pottstown to improve trail connections, improve way-finding and improve marketing of the Trail. Those funds would need to be spent by May of 2012.

I’d like to draw your attention to the ranked list of 42 potential heritage related projects on pp. 29-30. Ideally, the Borough and various partners would steadily chip away at this list on the way to making downtown Pottstown a clean, welcoming place that is attractive to residents and heritage tourists alike. Many of these are not eligible for the $25,000 currently available. Four projects, however, do meet the criteria. They are:

 #6 Creating trail connections between Riverfront Park & High Street and from High Street to Pollock Park

 #28 Creating and installing 3 informational kiosks in Riverfront Park, Pollock Park and downtown

 #18 Creating a comprehensive brochure of Pottstown’s heritage resources to be included in the kiosks as well as in local businesses and at the Chamber & PDIDA offices

 #36 Creating a trail friendly decal for display by local businesses who offer rest rooms, water or discounts to trail users.

These were chosen because they fit the funding criteria, would make a visible impact, and could be completed by the May 2012 deadline. Before I turn it over to Tom to give you some more details on those, I’d like to close by emphasizing that the heritage action planning process itself has already gotten various Partners collaborating.  Plans are in the works to get the marketing folks from the major arts & cultural organizations together in September to collaborate on events and the calendar for 2012 so that, as much as possible, everyone is promoting everything, with one voice.

We also realized that offering historic walking tours to the public during major events like July 4th, Carousel of Flavor, and Open Doors would be a way to draw attention to Pottstown’s history and possibly raise funds for the Historical Society. We’re in the investigation stage, with Mike Snyder of the Historical Society taking the lead, in figuring out if/how that could happen with trained tour guides. This is what we mean when we call the Heritage Action Plan a “living document.” It can continue to evolve as the community sees fit. And it can be used to support future grant applications. This is all really exciting to see unfold. Thank you again and now I’ll turn it over to Tom.

U.S. Army Reserve’s 78th Army Band to play at Sanatoga Park this Wednesday night

This Wednesday, July 13th, at 7pm, the 78th Army Band out of Fort Dix, New Jersey will make an appearance at the band shell at Sanatoga Park. They are appearing as part of the Lower Pottsgrove’s summer concert series, sponsored by Exelon Nuclear. Check out Joe Zlomek’s story in the Sanatoga Post.

Joe also wrote via email: “To my knowledge, this is the first time in many years a military band unit has played an outdoor concert anywhere near Pottstown, and the first time in several years a unit has played in the greater Pottstown area at all.” They will be playing in much larger cities and towns this week, including Baltimore and Philadelphia, so this is a fantastic opportunity, so close to home, to hear our service men and women perform and to acknowledge their musical talent and commitment.

We featured Sanatoga Park in our Parks & Rec Series last fall for the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation; you can see photos here. The band shell and lawn overlooking the water provide a scenic setting for the community to come together and share a musical experience.  So, gather up the family, throw a blanket or some lawn chairs into the trunk, and head over to Sanatoga Park this Wednesday night!



Pottstown’s 4th of July makes Channel 6 News

Thanks to resident Debby Penrod for reporting that Pottstown’s long-standing Fourth of July celebration made the Channel 6 news. See the video here.

The comment near the end about the event being funded through private donations, rather than tax dollars, will surely strike locals as a skimming of the surface of the very real difficulty of funding the event. The many volunteers who make this and many other community events happen are to be commended for all their hard work and dedication throughout the years.  Unfortunately, it’s no longer business-as-usual for the private or public sectors. There’s got to be a new modelof broader and more innovative collaboration in order to keep these community events going — if they are to keep going at all.

Balloon lifts off

As part of the Heritage Action Plan process that took place this spring – the plan is in the final stages of being drafted – it was noted that Pottstown is the host for local and regional events just about every month out of the year.  See list below.

What does this have to do with raising money for the Fourth of July? The marketing of these events is left up to the individual organizations who run them. Pottstown, as the home of these events, does not “claim them” as their own, supplementing and coordinating with the existing marketing. Imagine the events on this list always being promoted together, wrapped up in a simple, cohesive branding message,  on the Borough, PDIDA, PACA and (eventually) PAID websites.

Pottstown would suddenly look like a place where something fun is always happening. Potential visitors would see the pattern and realize that there is fun and safe entertainment to be found in Pottstown on a regular basis. This is a crucial step (among many others) toward marketing Pottstown’s empty storefronts, industrial space and housing to newcomers — and this is where new donors, volunteers and organizational partners can be found to help keep traditional community events like the Fourth of July going. Donors, especially, want to feel like they are supporting not only a worthwhile cause but a “winning” cause.

Pottstown already has a winning line-up. It just needs to flesh out a couple months, come up with the message (speak with one voice!) and market the hell out of it. 

And just because I can’t help myself, here are a few ideas to toss onto the table:

January – continue the winter holiday spirit with Friday Night Lights downtown with literary readings, music and hot cider at multiple venues; bring in outside talent as well as locals, including students from all schools.

February – come up with a Valentine’s Day-themed event or weekend; schedule historical walking tours and coordinate with Pottsgrove Manor & Historical Society programming over Presidents’ weekend.

March – St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl (Brickhouse, Frankie & Johnnie’s, Pourhouse, Jack Cassidy’s)

April – Repent from Pub Crawl by focusing on Easter season events and holding historic church tours every weekend; add outdoor activities such as Schuylkill River bike and kayak tours every weekend.

November – Open up the holiday season with Pottstown Pie Festival. Re-claim Mrs. Smith and our pie-making heritage!!

Festivals/Special Events in Pottstown, by month

 January – Polar Bear Plunge

 February – ?

March – ?

 April – Easter/Cross Walk

 May – BMX National Event; Classic Car Show

 June– Schuylkill River Sojourn; Soap Box Derby; Volleyball Rumble; Summer Solstice/Dog Show; Classic Car Show

July – July 4th; Classic Car Show

August – Classic Car Show

 September – Carousel of Flavor; Open Doors; Classic Car Show

October –Schuylkill River Festival; Halloween Parade; Shiver on the River

 November – ?

December – Candlelight House Tour; Hometown Holiday Celebration

Holiday Weekend Activities in Pottstown

I’m just going to send y’all over to Roy’s Rants since he’s just posted about lots of the fun stuff going on downtown and in Memorial Park this holiday weekend. 

Classic Car Show tonight, Saturday, July 2nd

July 4th Activities

And check out this Mercury link; there’s also a full line-up of activities taking place in Memorial Park on Sunday, July 3rd.







MCCC Begins Phase II on Riverfront Center

I recently received the following press release from Montgomery County Community College and added the photo so readers would know what building is being renovated.

140 College Drive


June 15, 2011, Pottstown, Pa.—As residents of Pottstown and its surrounding communities head to theSchuylkill River and its trails for recreation this summer, they will see a flurry of activity at 140 College Drive – the future home of the Riverfront Academic and Heritage Center.

Montgomery County Community College is currently in phase II of the renovation that will transform the facility, commonly referred to as “the old PECO building,” into a state-of-the-art educational center. Phase II work includes improvements to the building’s infrastructure and exterior envelope, including the installation of sustainable features that will support LEED certification.

Specifically, phase II will include replacement of the building’s aged, leaking roof with an eco-friendly green roof, along with the installation of energy efficient windows. A new entrance and handicap-accessible ramp will also be created. Phase II work is slated for completion in September.

When funding becomes available, phase III work will focus on the building’s interior, including the development of classrooms, offices and student spaces. A variety of sponsorship and funding opportunities are available to help bring the proposed Riverfront Academic and Heritage Center to fruition. To learn more, visit or call the College’s Foundation at 215-641-6535.

The completed Center will provide space for four college classrooms equipped with SMART technology, a state-of-the-art laboratory that will support the College’s Environmental Science degree program, and an interpretive center that will provide educational, historic and tourist information about the Schuylkill River Heritage Area (SRHA).

In May 2010, the College completed phase I of the project by renovating the site’s parking lot. Renovations included removing contaminated soil, installing underground drainage facilities, adding clean fill, installing a blacktop cap to protect the groundwater table, and constructing three bio-retention basins to capture stormwater runoff. Installation of LED lighting and the placement of more than 130 trees, shrubs and bushes make the lot more sustainable.

The building at 140 College Drive served the Pottstown community as an electrical generating station starting in 1911.  After sitting vacant for a number of years, the building and three-acre site were purchased by the Borough of Pottstown. The College secured ownership of the site in April 2009, and enjoys a unique partnership with the SRHA, which leases office space in the building.

Schuylkill River Sojourn: A Day on the “Hidden River”

Tuesday night, June 14… This time last week I was collapsing in a recliner in my parents’ living room, recovering from a 13.7 mile paddle down the Schuylkill River from Gibralter to Pottstown’s Riverfront Park. And I was happy as a clam. (What makes clams so happy, anyway?)

I’d gotten up at the ungodly hour of 4:30am and was on the road by 5am from New Jersey to the launch in Birdsboro. I’d only ever done some recreational paddling a few times when visiting friends in Canada the past few summers, and just figured I’d tough it out for one day. How bad could it be?

After fortifying myself with a few pancakes provided by the Cumru Township Lions Club, catching up with Tom Carroll, my consulting partner on Pottstown’s Heritage Action Plan, and his brother Mike, and meeting Carol DeWolf, Director of the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape Intitiative, and Dennis DeMara from PA’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, it was time to get into a kayak and literally test the waters.

I immediately drifted out into a part of the river where the current was pulling me downstream. I saw all the other paddlers patiently waiting for everyone to get into their boats, while I spun in circles and paddled furiously to keep from getting too far from the group. After 10 minutes, I was ready to call it quits for the day.

But, as would happen throughout the morning, until I got a little more instinctive with my paddle and kayak, someone knowledgeable would float over to me and offer me pointers and they had an immediate impact. By mid-morning, I was moving steadily down river with Mike from Spring City, and later joined by his brother-in-law, Mark. They were doing the entire Sojourn; it was their first time. Turns out Mike just started paddling last fall, and he’s hooked. He talked about living near the river all his life and really just discovering it recently. He’s gone so far as to buy his own camping gear, kayak and paddle – I rented mine from HRO Outfitters – and he’s been known to put in at the Spring City boat launch on the spur of the moment for a cruise on the river.

It was like this all day long – meeting friendly people, many of whom were also first-timers like me. The “experts” who floated past always had a new piece of advice for ne, and I appreciated all of it. There are plenty of paddling and certified safety professionals on the Sojourn, so you’re always in very safe company. Next year I definitely want to add at least a few days. The Schuylkill River Sojourn runs for 7 days and 6 nights; participants can do one day or the whole week. They can camp by the river or find other accommodations. The food is outstanding. We had an amazing candlelit lunch of fried chicken, pasta salad, freshly cut apples and Rita’s water ice at Morlatton Village, along with a short talk about planting native species in your Pennsylvania garden. And dinner by Bause-Landry Catering in Riverfront Park was out of this world: cornbread, fresh salads, Portabella mushroom chili (as well as the meat variety), and a massive chocolate chip cookie. I think I also wolfed down a few other things that are escaping me now…

My first time in the Schuylkill River, ever, was this past January 1st for Pottstown’s Parks & Rec Polar Bear Plunge. Now that I’ve had this kayak experience – where my whole perspective on what the river has meant to this region, since way, way back has been totally awakened – I’m looking forward to getting out there more often. It is peaceful and other-worldly and right in your own backyard. But boy was I glad to come around the bend, arms acquiver,see the Hanover Street Bridge and know that I was home.

Tom Carroll and I meet up in Riverfront Park

For $1/minute, I had a brief massage under the pavilion by Angela Wagner of the Academy of Massage Therapy and Bodyworks, located at 141 High Street in Pottstown. That definitely set the right tone for my recovery over the next couple of days.

If you want to experience the Schuylkill River Trail and River in a “peddle and paddle” event, check out the program that’s taking place on June 25th, sponsored by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. It’s filling up fast, so sign up today!

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