One of the things I appreciate most about this city is how easy it is to not just access nature, but to be so surrounded by it that the city feels miles and miles (instead of just blocks) away. (See: the Wissahickon, Bartram’s Garden, the Heinz Wildlife Refuge, the majority of Fairmount Park ….)
The latest of these natural escapes in the city is The Discovery Center, a partnership between the new Philadelphia Outward Bound School and National Audubon Society (Pennsylvania chapter). The future site of the Outward Bound school welcomes visitors to its grounds, which are part of Fairmount Park, and which border the beautiful Strawberry Mansion Reservoir. It’s birder’s paradise, where 200 species flutter and enjoy the lush woods and (seemingly) untouched ecosystem. The location is basically just across the street from Smith Playground, where we’ve all been a million times — though I never realized there was a) a body of water and b) such peace to be found here.
If you visit, you’ll see that inside the gorgeous, spare building that is the official Discovery Center — which just opened a couple weekends ago — there are floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the reservoir, as well as maps, a coloring station, bathrooms and, soon, an indoor rock wall. The center also loans out small, lightweight binoculars for you to take on your walk. The path runs along the perimeter of the Reservoir, and it’s perfect for taking in the views, appreciating the nature (and the zip-line, which looks like it’s going to be pretty rad — it will be open at select times to the public), and spotting birds and owls. The path itself is relatively flat (though not so smooth that you’ll want to bring a stroller, I don’t think) — it’s wide and well-kept and makes for a wonderfully accessible nature hike for little walkers. (The trail goes halfway around the reservoir — from the center to the end of the trail and back is a total of about 1.5 miles.) The center is also building a water walk out onto the reservoir (ETA 2019), but even while we await a chance to enjoy the climbing wall and zip-line and water walk, the place is still very much worth the visit: It’s just a little slice of wild in the middle of our city.
Through October 31, you can visit Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; come November, it’s Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is FREE (though they accept donations), and they do offer programming to be on the lookout for — gardening courses, for example, plus bird walks and plant walks.