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Changing of tides

Stephanie Phillips named executive director of Riverfront North Partnership

Job with a view: Stephanie Phillips visits Pulaski Park in Port Richmond, which overlooks the Delaware River and is one of the parks located along the Riverfront North. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

Stephanie Phillips arrived at Pulaski Park on Thursday afternoon for a photo op, but quickly got her hands dirty.

Two days into her position as executive director of Riverfront North Partnership, she picked up a discarded cardboard box and began collecting litter strewn on the paved terrace and patch of grass overlooking the Delaware River.

The task wasn’t on her agenda, but gave a glimpse into the type of leadership the Glenside resident will bring to the organization charged with creating an 11-mile trail that will stretch from Port Richmond to the Glen Foerd Mansion on the Delaware when complete.

Phillips is stepping into the shoes of Tom Branigan, who has overseen the completion of 60 percent of the Greenway since being named executive director of the organization formerly known as the Delaware River City Corporation in January 2011.

“[Filling his shoes] is going to be hard. I didn’t know him long, but he was so welcoming and generous with his time,” she said. “I’m up for the challenge, but I know it’s going to be a challenge to step into his shoes.”

Phillips’ familiarity to Riverfront North and the area it serves may have been limited prior to being named executive director, but she’s no stranger to working with rivers, trails and natural amenities in an urban setting.

Armed with a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania, Phillips served as director of development, interim director, and most recently, on the executive team as senior director of strategy and resource development.

“I’ve been working on the Schuylkill River for the last 11 years at Bartram’s Garden, which has a lot of similarities to Riverfront North in terms of being a public space on a riverfront in a really industrialized part of the city,” Phillips said.

And, she’s taken a dip in the river.

“I do remember water-skiing in the Delaware River as a teenager, which was probably not the healthiest thing for me to do, but it was a lot of fun,” said Phillips, laughing.

While Phillips brings a wealth of knowledge and experience both in and out of the water with her, she’s eager to learn about each community along the trail.

“I know along this 11-mile stretch, there are so many different neighborhoods that I don’t even really know about and I’m looking forward to learning more about them,” she said. “I’m coming in with my eyes and ears open.”

Seeing how the communities interact with the trail is another aspect of her position Phillips is eagerly awaiting.

“I’m really excited about the potential of the river, but also the potential of this organization to really raise the visibility of the trail in the Northeast,” she said. “The Riverfront North’s first music festival is coming up and I’m really excited to see how the trail is going to become activated with the community for that event and I’m really excited about the master site planning process.”

The organization will hold two community meetings — June 12 and 13 — to gather public input for the future of the trail, a perfection segway for a new leader to step in and “really hear what people want from their public spaces,” Phillips noted.

One of the public spaces she was particularly impressed with thus far in her explorations of the trail was Lardner’s Point Park in Tacony.

“I went to Lardner’s Point one Saturday with my dog and I was walking up and down the park and it was just amazing to me so many people of different ages and diversities were finding their way to the trail. That was really exciting to see,” she said.

Hiking and long nature walks with her dog, Timber, a rescue dog suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, are something Phillips does frequently and hopes to do along the trail.

Kayaking isn’t out of the question, either.

“I also like to kayak, but I have not kayaked on the Delaware yet,” she said. “I’m thinking to make that one of my things to do this summer.”

Utilizing the trail, the parks along it, and the river, whether through hiking, kayaking, or everything in between, is an experience Phillips hopes to provide to everyone.

“I got in this field because of historic preservation. Bartram’s Garden is a national, historic landmark, but Bartram’s Garden and so many of our green spaces are much more than that to the communities which are around them. It’s really about making sure every Philadelphian has access to their rivers and green spaces. People crave their rivers and they’ve been cut off from their rivers for generations. And, I’ve seen how transformative that can be for people when they are given access.”

Stephanie Phillips will be at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory Showcase at the Frankford Boat Launch on Tuesday, June 5, at 4:30 p.m., the summer concert series at Lardner’s Point with the Magnificent Birds of Prey on Saturday, June 9, at 5 p.m., and the Philly Fishing on the Delaware Derby, on Saturday, June 16, at 7 a.m.

Riverfront North will hold community meetings for the master plan update on Tuesday, June 12, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Holmesburg Recreation Center, 4500 Rhawn St., and Wednesday, June 13, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bridesburg Recreation Center, 4601 Richmond St. The community is invited to the open-house formal meetings to give feedback to help shape the future of the Riverfront North. For more details, visit riverfrontnorth.org.

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