On November 3rd, while most of our country was furiously refreshing their news feeds for election day updates, a group of mixed-income homeschooled high school students from the Natural Creativity Center was finishing their last few miles of Walk Around Philadelphia.

They’d started at 61st & Baltimore on September 15th. They’d walked regularly every Tuesday & Thursday, ~7miles per day, and finally made it right back to where they’d started, but with a whole new perspective on the city, having learned so much about it and themselves along the way.

At the finish line, having just completed a ~100 mile epic trek of discovery around the city’s edge

They’d began the morning at the Heinz Wildlife Refuge…

Tess, one of the NCC facilitators, reviews the day’s route

… and from there worked their way up through Eastwick…

… passing by the Clearview SuperFund site which is in active process of environmental cleanup…

Coming at Cibbotti park from the back end…

Finding their way into Cibbotti park from the back-end of the baseball required some fence climbing…

They could of course have gone around, but this little bit of fence climbing seemed legitimate since it was from public land onto public land. Making choices about risk and adventure and how to navigate obstacles is one of the inherent challenges and rewards of the walk.

Fresh roadkill: a perimeter classic

Encountering death along the way is another staple part of the Walk Around Philadelphia experience…

This one wasn’t roadkill …

… as it is all around. As Massimo notes in his reflections in his reflections on the walk, encountering death is a good reminder of our own fragility and preciousness – these reminders can help our lives bear more fruit.

approaching the dumpster graveyard…

Another bit of discovery along the Southwestern edge of the city is the place where the dumpsters live…

Which for the young folk meant a half hour of adventurous climbing.

Tearing themselves away from the dumpsters, they continued up Cobbs Creek Park towards Mt Moriah Cemetery…

Plastic skull found in Mt Moriah Cemetery

Where a shout of “Is that a *skull*?!” brought back memories of the first perimeter walk in 2016 when Sam noticed a (real) dog skull in Tacony Creek Park. (This human one was fake.)

Surprise adventure helping someone w/ their truck

Another Walk Around Philadelphia classic: the occasional unusual encounter w/ a stranger: in this case, a volunteer mowing the lawn in the cemetery had gotten his lawnmower stuck in a ditch, and couldn’t make it back to his truck due to peripheral neuropathy affecting his walking, and so needed help getting his truck back to him.

Stormwater infrastructure in Cobbs Creek Park

Heading up the last bits of Cobbs Creek, the final stretch of the perimeter was supposed to be, literally, “a walk in the park”… but wasn’t to be without a few more surprises.

Tall meadow grass is fun to play in!

After a bit of running around adventuring in a meadow, they suddenly encountered…

Legit hunter or illegal poacher? Not sure…

… a man w/ a crossbow, high up in a tree. He told us that he was legit contracted by Fairmount Park to help control the deer population, but we weren’t sure if that was true.

The Walk Around Philadelphia stickers serve three functions: a) as personal “I was here” graffiti-style affirmations b) as trail blazes for other perimeter walkers to help them confirm they’re near the perimeter, and c) as invitations for others to engage in this exploration of the city’s edge.

After laying one last sticker as a blaze for other perimeter walkers (a very analog wayfinding technology) …

Judi intercepted the group in the middle of the woods thanks to GPS location sharing

… a very digital technology allowed us to be intercepted by Judi, one of the retirees who’d already completed the whole perimeter and had joined the young folk for their previous leg of the journey.

~100 miles, all the way around the city’s perimeter: DONE!

Parents, siblings, and a few friends of the walk were waiting at the finish line and stylish Walk Around Philadelphia t-shirts were distributed.

A closing discussion circle…

And all that was just one of the 15 days that these young folk walked!

Even better, while they were doing it, ~100-125 other Philadelphians also set out to explore the city’s edge through this project. Some have completed the whole thing, others are just getting started and will do it over several years.

I have so much more to write about this project, with so much having happened this fall and so many hopes for the future… but for now I’ll let the experience speak for itself through the voices of a few of its participants:

Big milestones for this iteration of the walk included:

  • Increased participation, w/ ~125 folks setting out to undertake the walk
  • Increased age diversity, w/ participants ranging from 13yr old students to retirees
  • Increased economic diversity: participants paid a $50/100/250 sliding scale for 4-person registrations, while some received free registrations alongside visa gift cards to help cover costs of participating.
  • Facilitating an “organize-your-own-group” and “choose-your-own-adventure” experience that felt appropriate for a pandemic
  • Creating online resources and perimeter kits to support walkers
  • Cultivating opportunity for connection between groups via an ASL-interpreted online reportback experience (recording here)
Reflective safety belts and ID lanyards were part of the perimeter kits that participants received, alongside maps, stickers, limited edition perimeter passports & more..

Next steps:

Short Term

  • Invite you to sign up for updates if you’re interested in this project
  • Do the walk again myself in mid-February, as is my annual tradition
  • Find other opportunities/partnerships to facilitate this experience for young folk

Medium Term

  • Plan iterations of walk that intentionally connect participants of different backgrounds as it becomes appropriate / safe from a public health perspective (aka group students with retirees to walk together)
  • Build financial resources to be able to offer more stipends to support this experience for those whose economic circumstances would prevent their participation.

(If you’re so inclined, I’d welcome your support to help continue this work.)

Long Term

  • Build partnerships along the route (places to camp, guided access to restricted areas, etc)
  • Find institutional support & partnerships to facilitate the walk for individuals experiencing returning from incarceration or experiencing other major life transitions

The perimeter’s out there waiting for you – you can explore it anytime (just remember the guidelines!)

Super grateful to be able to do this walk, and to find ways to facilitate it for others…

If you’d like occasional updates and invites re: this project and others, sign up for my email list or check back to this website. In the meanwhile, wherever you’re walking, enjoy!