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Restoration of a Historic Woodland Trail Known in Philadelphia as “Boxers’ Trail”

By Barbara Bryann




Before: The old wooded trail with overgrown vegetation, neglected and unused. After: The restored 8-foot wide trail alignment was shifted around existing mature trees and through established groves of sycamores and beeches.
Photos Courtesy of Synterra, Ltd.

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Back when Muhammad Ali wanted to challenge Joe Frazier to a fight, he knew where to find him, Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park. Frazier was known to spend hours training on a narrow, unpaved path in a wooded hilltop overlooking the Schuylkill River. Restoration of this historic 3.8-mile trail was undertaken in two phases. Synterra, Ltd. a Philadelphia landscape architecture firm donated design services for Phase II for the path used by generations of aspiring champs that became known in Philadelphia as Boxers’ Trail.

Working closely with the Fairmount Park Conservancy, plans and renderings were developed to communicate the vision and inspire donations; Synterra, Ltd. also donated construction administration services to assist the Philadelphia Department of Public Property in overseeing project implementation.

Boxers’ Trail emerged as an area of special interest to the community during the master planning process. “This project fit perfectly with our commitment to give back to the community we work in,” says Synterra Principal William Wilson, who led a team that included Bill Mellix, Project Coordinator, Scott Todd, Urban Planner, Peggy Carter, Senior Landscape Architect, Nobuki Iijima, Landscape Architect and Nate Hommel, Landscape Designer. Synterra, Ltd. also donated grant application and construction administration services for the project.

One challenge for the design team was to integrate the trail with nearby historic landmarks, park amenities and the neighborhood. The Phase II Trail meanders past 18th Century mansions (Ormiston, Rockland and Mount Pleasant) located in the Park and the Municipal Employee Memorial Grove. It also passes the historic Smith Memorial Playground (open since 1899 and home to a 44-foot indoor wooden slide), Sedgley Woods Disc Golf Course and Strawberry Green Driving Range.






Before: Paths with overgrown patches of grass and brush. After: Asphalt-running paths were added along Fountain Green and Reservoir Drives.


“It was essential to have a contractor sensitive to natural features,” says Bill Mellix, Project Coordinator. “Gessler Construction worked with us in making field adjustments that modified the alignment in order to preserve several magnificent mature trees.”

During the design process, issues concerning drainage, retaining walls, railings and pedestrian bridges were addressed. Options were explored to open up view sheds towards the Schuylkill River and the historic mansions at various locations along the trail. Native plant materials, well suited to the woodland setting, were used to enhance the experience of the trail.

The restored Boxers’ Trail invites a diverse new group of park enthusiasts to experience a beautiful portion of Fairmount Park. Mark Focht says it is personally rewarding to see all-age neighbors taking advantage of this beautiful stretch of Fairmount Park now that this restoration is complete.

As one walks, jogs or bikes along Boxers’ Trail, reminiscing about the glory and history of Philadelphia boxers, they enjoy a delightful woodland setting and charming historical mansions. It’s difficult to grasp the fact that the Trail is the middle of a bustling major city.







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December 14, 2019, 7:42 am PDT

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