The Past and Future of Tacony Creek Park:
An Interview with Lisa Kuzma, Director of Olney Christian School
By Rita Yelda
Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTF) is partnering with Ambrose Liu of the Olney Culture Lab and Dr. Matthew Smalarz of Manor College to record in-person interviews with community members as part of a two-year Tacony Creek Park Stories project. Manor College, which sits along the Jenkintown Creek at the headwaters of the TTF watershed, is developing an Oral History repository.
Tacony Creek Park Stories is a two-part effort collecting and sharing park and neighborhood history and memories, and then working with local artists to bring these stories to life, making the collective story of Tacony Creek Park more accessible to the community. As part of this project, TTF Watershed Partnership is proud to share this blog with you based on an October 2018 interview with Lisa Kuzma, Director of Olney Christian School.
Olney is a neighborhood in Philadelphia that Lisa Kuzma knows well. It’s where she works, exercises, explores, and has lived for about twenty years. Lisa is candid about the immense challenges that Tacony Creek Park faced when she first moved to the neighborhood.
“My earliest memory was going for a walk with a friend… I was new to this neighborhood, I just moved in not that long ago,” she begins. “So, we started walking down the path together… and a guy was coming the other direction and he’s like ‘You two need to turn around and take yourselves out of the park. It’s not safe for you to be here.’”
In 1999, when Lisa worked for the after-school program at a New Life Church in Olney, options for students to enjoy the outdoors were limited. Still wanting the students to have fresh air and open space to enjoy, Lisa took the students out to Tacony Creek Park to give them “the pleasure of rolling down a hill, playing in the dirt… just all the things that they love to do; [things] that I think kids should be able to do.”
However, when they were at the park, extra adult supervision was necessary and tight reigns had to be kept on the students to avoid facing leash-less dogs or other trouble. Along with this lack of safety in Tacony Creek Park at the time, the cleanliness of the creek was questionable. The creek had a stench and was littered with toppled over grocery carts and trash.
Twenty years later, Lisa says she’s seen the park’s safety and the creek’s cleanliness improve, which she attributes largely to TTF’s commitment to rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work. “The stream is now perfectly clean,” Lisa says with a smile. “And the work that they’ve done on the trail – that makes the trail accessible.”
Lisa has no hesitation to use the park now, utilizing it herself for biking and running, and she feels better about the students going there as well. “We don’t have the same concerns that we did 10, 15 years ago,” she adds.
TTF’s work doesn’t stop in the park, as they’ve also engaged Lisa’s students at Olney Christian School in the classroom by conducting environmental education and adding to the students’ understanding of the natural world.
Students can now recognize bird calls and have planted a rain garden on the side of the school to control stormwater.
Students were also taught about the connection between stormwater pollution and drinking water, which the students then proceeded to educate their community about.
TTF”s dedication and sheer elbow grease over the years has acted as a wake-up call toward the stewardship of the park for Lisa. This understanding of personal responsibility and giving back is also mirrored in Lisa’s faith, “[God] doesn’t just hand out gifts and then let you trash them.”
After twenty years of growth at Tacony Creek Park, Lisa hopes to see continued improvement over the next ten years, as well. “What I see the very beginnings of, that I would really love to see more, is families taking their own initiative to spend time in the park… I would love it to be a place that you could wander in and people are having picnics, people are sitting around reading a book; [a place] that the kids are up and down the trail.”
Do you have a story to share? Whether you’ve been visiting the park for 50 years or just a few months, we’d love to hear from you. We are committed to gathering stories from the wide range of perspectives in our culturally and ethnically diverse park community. Interested in sharing your stories from the park? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-744-1853. This project has been made possible with support from the Joseph Robert Foundation.