Historic Pier 53 transformed into public park

ZONE A: Upper Riparian/Upland: above daily tidal inundation, flooded by larger storms. Habitat for migratory and resident songbirds and raptors, small reptiles, small mammals and invertebrates. ZONE B: Lower Riparian: occasional tidal inundation and flooded by smaller storms. Habitat for migratory and resident songbirds and raptors, small reptiles, small mammals and invertebrates. ZONE C: Intertidal: Inundated by daily tidal cycle. Habitat for fish; reptiles; mollusks (mussels, clams) and other aquatic invertebrates; migratory waterfowl and wading birds.At the end of October, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) broke ground on the next phase of Washington Avenue Green, the waterfront park at the former Pier 53. The park enhancements will combine public green space with river views and access, as well as educational opportunities, ecological improvements and public art acknowledging the pier’s history.

From 1873 to 1915, Pier 53 was the city’s main immigration station, a history that will be acknowledged by the “Land Buoy,” a beacon and spiral staircase designed by local artist Jody Pinto.

“We would have built the park here anyway, for the ecological and public access reasons,” says DRWC president Tom Corcoran. “But the historic aspect of it makes for a richer project with a larger story to tell.”

While part of the same network of trails and parks as Race Street Pier, located a mile and a half to the north, Washington Avenue Green is more concerned with restoration than transformation. Scheduled to be completed next summer, the improvements to Washington Avenue Green focus on ecological enhancements, maintaining a sensitivity to the ecological advantages its neglected state have provided. The design not only maintains the pilings and overhangs in which the local fish like to hide, it turns them into an educational opportunity through signage, interpretive elements in public art and possibly even a mobile app.

“Philadelphia has these post-industrial piers that are returning to nature, and we realized that they were beneficial for fish species which seek relief from predation there,” says Joseph A. Forkin, DRWC vice president for operations and development. “So, this ties into our attempts to educate the public about the environment, river health and fish species, and native plantings.”

For more information about developments on the Delaware River Waterfront, visit delawareriverwaterfront.com.

Story by Shaun Brady | Image courtesy of Applied Ecological Services