Discover the Borough's Natural Wonders
By Bruce Schwartz, Editor, Discover Lansdale Magazine (originally published in Late Summer/Fall 2019 issue)
(Click here to find your favorite parks on Lansdale Borough's interactive map.)
Relax. Play. Swim.
That may be the motto of the 2019 Founders Day celebration Aug. 24, but it’s also much more – it’s a year-round invitation to enjoy Lansdale Borough’s most valuable public assets. The town’s picturesque parks system, developed over many decades, offers a wealth of recreational opportunities to residents and visitors alike.
The Parks Department, in many ways, was the handiwork and well-tended garden of longtime director Carl Saldutti, who died last year and is memorialized in the 2019 Founders Day. But it is also a personally prized possession and memory maker for many locals.
Take William Breish. A North Penn native and Borough Council member, “BJ” is the founder of Facebook group Friends of Lansdale Parks, and has organized cleanup events and spotted lantern fly raids. He has many treasured memories of his younger years in the parks, and today is passing that passion along to his daughter Addison, 4.
We asked BJ to stroll with us through the parks, to share his memories and observations. On these pages, join us as we highlight several of Lansdale’s greenest, most welcoming spaces, and outline a few of the many pleasures our parks have to offer.
1. Adams Avenue Park
2. Cherry Street / Pennbrook Avenue Park
3. Church Road Park
4. Fourth Street Park
5. Hancock Street Park
6. Hidden Valley Park
7. Jackson Street Park
8. Laurel Lane Park
9. Memorial Park
10. Moyer's Road Park
11. Oakland Avenue Park
12. Parks & Recreation Office
13. Railroad Plaza
14. Schweiker Park
15. Stony Creek Park
16. W. Fifth Street Park
17. Wedgewood Park
18. Whites Road Park
19. Willow Street Park
20. Wissahickon Park
21. York / Susquehanna Park
Stony Creek Park, 200 E. Hancock St.
- Acquired: 1998-2001
- Description: 21.5 acres of natural woodlands and wetlands with a 1-acre pond and fountain, nature trail, labyrinth, foot path, gazebo, tot lot and on-site parking.
- You might not know: The gazebo and grilling area is available for group rentals. They labyrinth offers a challenge, and the pond is a favorite for family fishing – and, when the weather gets frosty enough, ice skating. “In the winter, they drain the pond so it only has a couple inches of water, to help it harden,” says BJ. Also occasionally mistaken for (and mislabeled by Google Maps as) the nearby Hancock Street Park.
- Starting point: We begin our tour at the park BJ considers his favorite, in large part because it’s his home park. “If that foliage wasn’t filled in, you could see my house from here,” he says. In fact, his daughter calls it Addy’s Park. “She’s been playing in that playground ever since she could walk, and she absolutely loves it. She calls this trail that goes back to the woods ‘the jungle,’ and you kind of feel like you’re in a jungle when you’re walking back here.” You’ll often find deer or other wildlife in the wooded trails, and BJ finds mystery in an old foundation he found hidden in the undergrowth. “Somebody told me it was somebody’s residence, and there was a road back here, and if you look at the trees in a certain way you can tell where the trees lined the driveway. I try to piece together what this was before it was a park.”
Wissahickon Park, 765 E. Main St.
- Acquired: Unclear; 1960s or earlier
- Description: 17.8 acres of open and wooded space with a creekside trail, nature path with wildflowers, natural filtration of runoff into the headwaters of Wissahickon Creek.
- You might not know: The newly renovated Wissahickon Park Building is available for rental by organizations and events. “It’s a great little building with a nice parking lot, air conditioning and Wi-Fi,” says BJ.
- Suburban enclave. Less visited than Stony Creek, it’s located right at the eastern edge of town and right off Main Street, and still feels pastoral. “It’s a great park for runners,” he says. "I hear good things from people who like to come run and walk here. It has great trails, and a nice walk in the shade and along the creek.” Where trails at other parks may feel uncomfortably secluded for certain runners and hikers, particularly at day’s end, “this is a little more open, there’s visibility to the street, people can see you, and you have path lights,” all of which can add to the sense of security. He stops to admire the flora along the way. “The foliage is all wildflowers, native I think, and it’s all over the place back here.” He points out Joe-Pye Weed and Bee Balm, both of which he says are “awesome for pollinators. I’d encourage anybody into wildflowers and pollinators to come check out this park.”
Hidden Valley Park, 711 E. Main St.
- Acquired: 1975
- Description: 8.9 acres and aptly named, it’s almost invisible from the street and unknown to townsfolk. After a 0.2-mile stroll (or slow drive) down a tree-lined gravel path, you access a picturesque little clearing that’s behind Wissahickon Park apartments and land-locked by private residences.
- You might not know: That the park even exists. With no parking and little motor vehicle maneuverability, visitors are better served parking at Wissahickon Park and strolling the half-block to the narrow entrance. And it’s the former site of Blue Rock Mansion, built by an industrialist at the turn of the 20th century and named for the strikingly colored rock foundation uncovered during construction.
- Hidden indeed: “This started quite a conversation on Facebook,” says BJ. He posted an item in the Friends of Lansdale Parks group last year and found “nobody knew it was here. We were getting comments from folks who have been here for 30-plus years who never knew this park existed.” While it may be a source of continued curiosity, it doesn’t have much else to attract visitors aside from open conservation space. “I sense the local residents have a general understanding of what’s here, especially for folks who like to walk their dogs,” he says. “It’s nice and secluded, but there are no amenities, no benches, no swings, no basketball courts.” To develop the space, he notes, the main challenge would be to figure out ingress and egress. “You have to pull off into the grass even to turn around, unless you want to risk pulling into a posted private drive.” He also wonders whether the gravel-path in and out might be best suited to “trail runners. For folks who like to run trails, this might be good practice for them. It’s straight and level, and not running on pavement, and opens up to a nice meadow.”
Memorial Park, 300 E. Main St.
- Acquired: Mid-1930s
- Description: 10 acres, with a network of tree-lined paths, memorial tablets and Hometown Heroes banners dedicated to fallen veterans, plus lighted baseball field with grandstands and tennis courts.
- You might not know: This is the park that served as the genesis for today’s Lansdale Parks Department (see History story, page 6). There also was at one point in its history a small petting zoo and waterfall in the center of the park.
- An eternal honor: Memorial Park acts as the town’s soul -- a living, breathing remembrance of the sacrifices made by the town’s sons and daughters for freedom. “I grew up in Hatfield,” says BJ, “but I always came to the Memorial Day Parade, whether with the Boy Scouts, or high school, or the Fairmount Fire Company when I was a member. I was usually marching in the parade somehow, or my sister was, through the color guard, and of course we would always go to the ceremonies here afterwards.” He points to the informational plaques with the cannons displayed in the park. “This was an Eagle Scout project. They decided they wanted to do a little history on the cannons, and start to finish came up with the ideas and created the plaques.” He notes that Memorial Park acts as “a sort of a gateway into downtown. Folks driving into town, this is what they see first, and they see the memorials.”
Fourth Street Park and Pool, 351 E. Fourth St.
- Acquired: 1956
- Description: 9-acre, full-featured recreation area with basketball courts, swimming pools, snack bar, T-ball, tennis, picnic areas and playground
- You might not know: It’s the planned location of Lansdale’s first official skate park, with construction slated for 2020.
- Taking a dip: The pools are BJ’s summer family refuge. “This is a great community resource,” he says, pitching pool memberships and day visits. “We need the memberships,” he says. “It takes a lot to maintain these pools. There are several areas that require paid lifeguards. There’s a lot of costs that go into running (and) maintaining these pools. They are super clean and super nice. And the staff does a top-notch top-notch job.”
Whites Road Park and Pool, 400 Whites Rd.
- Acquired: Mid-1960s
- Description: The other swimming pool in town; 33-acre park also offers amphitheater and bandshell, half-mile nature footpath, basketball and tennis courts, picnic area, parking and playground.
- You might not know: The upper parking lot, from 1966-1980, was a regulation, refrigerated ice-rink in winter. And in a former life, the park grounds were a repository of discarded ceramics from Lansdale’s giant tile works. The ground at times can resemble a colorful mosaic, but visitors should be mindful of sharp pieces of tile and glass that may surface.
- Listen to the music: The North Penn Rotary funded the construction of a bandshell that today hosts concerts every Tuesday evening in the summer months, as well as movies and stage plays, all free of charge. And Whites Road’s playground is slated for a complete upgrade to be fully accessible to children of all capabilities. “We’re excited to make this park an inclusive park,” says BJ, right down to the new wheelchair-accessible portable toilet in the parking lot. He suggests that visitors keep an eye out for those painted Lansdale Rocks. “There’s a Facebook page set up where folks are going out into the parks system and hiding rocks that are painted. When you find them, you post it online and you put a little hint as to where you relocated it, so others can go out and hunt these rocks,” he says. “I often find them in Whites Road Park.”
York & Susquehanna Park, 320 York Avenue
- Acquired: 1998
- Description: Just shy of an acre, lighted area with foot path, playground and open space.
- You might not know: Again, if you’re not a neighbor, you might not know it exists. An understated path leads into a picturesque little backyard for the entire neighborhood.
- The “pocket park”: That’s the informal term for York/Susquehanna, one of several in town almost entirely locked in by long-established neighboring row homes and duplexes. It is here we meet resident Sarah Reimers, playing with her toddler on the sliding boards. “We live right there. We love this park. It’s a big reason we bought the house,” Sarah says. “The swings are great, the open space is nice, people play soccer and frisbee here all the time. It’s well maintained, and there’s lighting so it feels safe, too.” She grew up in Ambler, her husband on West Eighth Street in Lansdale, and she and her family love the small-town feel of having a pocket park as well. “It’s great for young moms, because we get to meet other young moms and other young kids in the neighborhood,” she says. “People bring blankets out here and sit, our neighbors have T-ball games going on. When you don’t have a big backyard, it’s nice to have this. I feel like it’s my community.”
West Fifth Street Park, 206 W. Fifth St.
- Acquired: 1970s, developed in two phases 1979-1982.
- Description: 5.7 acres with basketball court, football field plus scoreboard and stands, parking, restrooms and playground.
- You might not know: This park is the home field for Cannoneers football and cheer squads.
- Nearly kickoff time: Enter through the small intersection at Fifth and Cannon Streets, and you see a modest little playground and basketball court. Stroll back a bit further, along the train siding and under the shadow of Lansdale’s water tower, and the park opens into a huge playing field with a shelter, a parks building and restrooms. Shawn Gular, president of the Lansdale Cannoneers Youth Football and Cheer organization, is reseeding and feeding the well-kept playing field in July’s oppressive heat, preparing for the upcoming season. “When I was growing up this was our practice field,” Gular says, “and now it’s our home game field. We work hard trying to keep it in shape, maintained and the grass looking good so when it’s game time it’s looking pretty.” Caring for the field, also a neighborhood resource for soccer-playing kids, is a shared responsibility of the Parks Department and the Cannoneers. “They take good care of us,” says Gular. “The Borough aerated the field this morning, which really helped us.” He would love for people to visit the park – particularly when the teams are playing. “Starting in September, games are here Saturdays from 11 until 4 or 5 in the afternoon,” he says. “Come out and cheer us on.” And kids are invited to sign up to play, either via www.cannoneers.com or on Facebook.
And as we end our tour, BJ notes that “it’s always great to meet folks who have so much pride in our town, like Shawn and the homeowner at York — and who have parks that they are so passionate about.”