TURTLE TALKS…December Issue IT’S ALL ABOUT THE NUMBERS – “…and we’re counting.”

By Alexis Franklin

Twenty Twenty was to be the 30th anniversary celebration of The Friends of McMichael Park. It was NOT the anniversary year that we had planned. Although we still remember the 29 prior years, and we have much to celebrate.

Looking back over those three decades of volunteer service to McMichael Park, to say the 25 core members of The FOMP group “accomplished much” would be an understatement.

After 30 years of dedicated volunteerism to McMichael Park, The FOMP group was responsible for planting 37 new trees within the park, filling more than 3,000 bags of debris and trash, raising $83,188.00 USD in grants, and an additional $45,000.00 USD in direct fundraising.

Fifteen coats of paint cover Morton the Turtle — the centerpiece of McMichael Park — with The FOMP group giving him a fresh coat every other year.

While the park has had a doggy bag dispensary installed, more than 96,000 doggy bags were used.

All 22 park benches around the park have been painted 15 times during The FOMP group’s tenure.

The FOMP group hosted 200 guests each year for 12 years of “Free Theater” each summer for the annual Shakespeare In The Park series in conjunction with Commonwealth Classic Theatre, and partnered with the Falls of Schuylkill Library to provide 65 total hours of summer story time reading to children by Morton the Turtle.

The FOMP group participated in every annual Love Your Park (formerly Philly Cares) service day sponsored by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PP&R). That’s 30 years of mulching, planting trees, raking, bagging and pruning.

Every year for the last 21 years, FOMP placed approximately 250 “love lights” on one of the trees in McMichael Park in the lead up to Valentine’s Day. The “love lights” were donated by loving individuals in the greater Philadelphia community, and honored or were in memory of a loved one, person, friend or place … or a furry friend. At present, McMichael Park is still the only park in the City of Philadelphia to hold this kind of annual celebration. It is part of McMichael Park’s unique character, and difference as part of the greater PP&R family.

Over the past two years, McMichael Park has been a stop for PP&R’s summer Parks on Tap (POT) events, a pop-up beer garden that served some 200 attendees each day during its appearance in McMichael Park. The third year of POT was cancelled due to COVID-19.

At all times, there have been four FOMP volunteers to tend to the garden beds located at each of the four street corners of McMichael Park — Henry Avenue at Coulter Street, Coulter Street at McMichael Street, McMichael Street at Midvale Avenue, and Midvale Avenue at Henry Avenue — weeding the bedding, planting flowers and seasonal decorating.

For 18 consecutive years, FOMP received help from students at the William Penn Charter School, with the school encouraging the participation of students for an annual clean up community service and environmental day. In 2020, McMichael Park was able to give back to William Penn Charter, housing temporary outdoor classrooms for students during the fall semester amidst the pandemic. Another landmark and unique difference for The FOMP to help educate and broaden the offering to all students.

For those same 18 years, university student volunteers from nearby Jefferson University marked the start of fall semester with an annual cleanup day in McMichael Park — first as Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, then later as Philadelphia University before the larger merger with Thomas Jefferson University.

In addition to bestowing honorary volunteer designations to the aforementioned educational institutions, McMichael Park can also count primary school students from Thomas Mifflin School, high school students from Roman Catholic High School and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, as well as university students from Temple University, all of whom have dedicated time over the years to assisting FOMP with park cleanups. These many students have earned their community service credits in the shadow of Morton as a mentor to all ages in environmental responsibility and as friends of open, green space.

The FOMP has had the distinction of having one of the longest continuously running newspaper columns in East Falls, first with a monthly column in The Fallser Newspaper until 2015, and into the virtual age as an independent monthly e-newsletter.

McMichael Park has played host to elected officials from both the city and state for events as long as there has been an FOMP group:

  • One United States senator — Arlen Specter;
  • One United States congressman — Chaka Fattah, a park neighbor;
  • Two Philadelphia city mayors — Michael Nutter and Edward Rendell. McMichael Park counts the latter as a park neighbor, as the former governor has resided for much of his professional life in East Falls;
  • Three PP&R commissioners / executive directors — Kathryn Ott-Lovell, Michael DiBerardinis and William Mifflin;
  • Five city council members, past and present — Curtis Jones Jr., Jamie Gauthier, Michael Nutter, Ann J. Land and Joan Specter.

The FOMP group can also count royalty as having visited McMichael Park during its tenure over the last 30 years: Albert II, Prince of Monaco. Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Albert’s mother, was raised in the Kelly family home across Coulter Street from the park.

Friends of McMichael Park volunteers Bill Hoffner and Frances Bourne attend to the tree pit of the “Black Tupelo,” which was planted in 2015. Ongoing volunteer hours of weeding and mulching and planting of daffodils. A welcoming touch showing McMichael Park is well cared for.

In 2017, $65,000.00 USD was spent on restoring the War Memorial, a monument honoring the more than 10,000 residents of 19129 who served in wartime, dating back to pre-colonial days.

In 2020, $250,000.00 USD (donated by Councilman Jones Jr.) was spent on a playground that is intended to serve hundreds of children.

Contrast the 2020 spending with the staggering statistics from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 83,000+ Philadelphians have tested positive for COVID-19, and 2,200+ individuals have died, more than any other county in the State of Pennsylvania. According to Billy Penn, the City of Philadelphia is now seeing 900+ new COVID-19 cases each day, 880+ hospitalizations, and more than 100 deaths in the past seven days.

Unemployment in Philadelphia stood at 17.7 percent, the highest unemployment rate of all counties that make up the metropolitan area. Homelessness stands at about 5,700, according to the Office of Homeless Services. As of Monday, Dec. 15, police recorded 473 homicides, up 39 percent over last year, and more than double that of 2013.  Though the stock market might be up, sadly, the number of businesses closing across the city is also increasing — more than 1,000 since March. And with so many people working from home, office occupancy rates are down. The City of Philadelphia has a $749 billion USD budget deficit as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with budget cuts to PP&R planned.

Now we’re counting down to Christmas. Then the New Year … 2021. And then Inauguration Day. And this year especially, every vote counted.

Because well-managed parks and public spaces are more essential than ever, there have been a record number of visitors to McMichael Park this past year. A testimonial to the 30 years of pristine care, management and diligent environmental responsibility. It is a sign of how important green space is to the community, which The Friends of McMichael Park has steadfastly managed and maintained.

A toast and extra thanks to our 25 core volunteers who persevered.

As we head into this holiday season: We give pause as we celebrate, and count our blessings. Ready to rebound in 2021.

Some recent additions to the count …

  • One dead sycamore tree that was on the removal list for two years was finally taken down.
  • Three tree tags are being installed by The FOMP on the Anniversary trees that were planted in spring 2020.
  • Several new mowers were purchased by PP&R. McMichael Park is now on the list for having its leaves mulched in place.
  • Ten new DUMOR benches will be installed in the park in 2021.
  • Five of the Gift for All Season benches are being replaced. These benches include the Gembala Family Bench, the Linda Koons Bench, the Faye Tyler Bench, The Kubacki Bench, and “The Doon” Bench.

Turtle News – March 2020 “Where’s the Batter?”


“Where’s the Batter?” 

by Alexis Franklin / Coordinator Friends of McMichael Park (1990-2020)

As The Friends of McMichael Park celebrate 30  years of volunteering, we look ahead to additional volunteer participation in our neighborhood during the 2020 calendar year and beyond.

Maintaining the Park has been a labor of love for The FOMP community members, and our efforts over 30 years at rehabilitating and maintaining a pristine green park in Philadelphia have obviously brought McMichael Park to the attention of all levels of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the greater City of Philadelphia. 

Commissioner Kathryn Ott-Lovell and Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. are now completely committed to building a playground in the park, an endeavor that would never have been initiated had McMichael Park not been elevated to the status and outstanding condition it has achieved. All solely and diligently thanks to The FOMP group. 

McMichael Park exists because of the volunteer commitments of the members in The FOMP group.  It has been restored to its original design and has become a respite from city strife and the core and epicenter of neighborhood activities. Noticeably absent from volunteer activities are those individuals who support a playground. The FOMP has always and regularly promoted open meetings, service days, theater, children’s events and clean-up activities. Everyone in the neighborhood is invited to participate. 

The volunteer events hosted by The FOMP are open to all, and are always prominently advertised as such. The FOMP has made multiple attempts to include playground supporters in volunteer events, but the loose assemblage of individuals have not participated, or moved away.  Philadelphia Parks and Recreation has been unable to provide a local point of contact for this group. 

This is very disconcerting.

It not only speaks volumes to the commitment level of these neighbors, but also because Commissioner Ott Lovell in her presentation at a recent neighborhood East Falls Community Council meeting in January stated: “You must be committed 100 percent. So ‘batter up’ and participate.”

Where is the batter?

As much as The FOMP has sought to include playground supporters in volunteer activities, this group has consistently and repeatedly failed to show up to help.  “Where is the batter?” is an oxymoron for this group.

They are not even in the ballpark.

The FOMP has hosted between five to seven volunteer events on an annual basis. These include the popular Lovelights — the annual fundraiser now in its 21st year. An event that sees The FOMP group light the Anniversary Tree in a spectacular array of red lights for Valentine’s Day. There are multiple park cleanups, bench paintings, summer story readings for children, the annual Shakespeare in the Park theater performance, pet adoptions, and summer movie nights.   

These events take time, talent, energy and money. 

The FOMP estimates that in its 30 year history it has invested the equivalent of $1.5 million USD in time, talent and energy; volunteer work in lieu of compensation, like kind contributions of sweat and creativity. In addition, The FOMP members have donated thousands of dollars consistently and without reservation to the upkeep of the park. 

The FOMP has a 30-year history of not only “stepping up to the plate,” but “knocking it out of the park” with our volunteer events, every time at bat. The Commissioner was not referring to the existing Friends of McMichael Park!

The East Falls Community Council measures support for the  playground by the clapping of hands at their meetings. This is not a popularity contest. Who from that group is stepping up to the plate?  Who is in the dugout?

The FOMP group, most recently stepped up to the plate again for the upcoming Lovelights celebration on February 14, 2020 (Valentine’s Day) and they are planning Love Your Park Activities  for May/June 2020.

Again, we look forward to your participation and invite you to get in the game. 

Visit the Friends of McMichael Park page on Facebook to keep track all upcoming events in McMichael Park: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfMcmichaelPark/

As part of our Thirty year celebration: please connect with our page highlighting our individuals with reflections from our humble beginnings. #FOMP30  https://mcmichaelparkturtlefriends.com/
Save the Date! Love Your Park Week
May 9 – 17, 2020
Love Light/2020 Volunteers raised $1200.00 with generous donations from our community.(l-r) Peter Logan, Christina Kistler, Robert Robinowitz, Alexis Franklin, Beth Gross-Eskin and John-david Franklin
Love Your Park starts planing now!
Mark your calendars as events are starting in McMichael Park during this year’s Love Your Park Week! Need some inspiration? Check out past events here that were held in McMichael Park and other parks.  Stay tune for more information to follow in the coming month. 

Registration for Park Friends will open on March 2nd.

Please join in for the next PFN meeting on March 11th from 5:30-7:30pm at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, 100 N. Horticultural Dr (click here for map). As always, up to three members of your Friends Group are invited to attend! If interested in attending…Contact Alexis Franklin: Lexy3904@gmail.com

We will be serving dinner at 5:30 and start the meeting promptly at 6:00, covering several important topics, including:Love Your Park Week | May 9 – 17!PFN Registration 2020 RecapPreview of new Love Your Park WebsitePark Friends Activity Report raffle*We will provide a free shuttle to the Horticulture Center, leaving from 1515 Arch Street at 5:15pm and returning to the same location afterwards.
WHEN 

Wednesday, March 11th
5:30 PM – 7:30 PM

WHERE
Fairmount Park Horticulture Center
100 N. Horticultural Dr 
Philadelphia, PA 19131