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Concourse Lake

Behold Concourse Lake. Ever heard of it? Probably not, but you soon will. This 7.5-acre lake is in West Fairmount Park, along Avenue of the Republic, equidistant from the Mann Center for the Performing Arts and the Please Touch Museum. Local garden club members, part of the Garden Club of America network, have adopted the lake and plan to raise $750,000 to restore it, to commemorate GCA's centennial in 2013. (They'll be meeting that year in Philadelphia, where GCA was founded in 1913.) Two visits to Concourse Lake in the past week (for a story in tomorrow's paper) were pretty interesting. There were virtually no visitors, unless you count the legions of Canada geese, who've really adopted this place. Today, however, there was a crowd of walkers on an ovarian cancer walk. Most of them went right by the lake and didn't know it. Not a mystery; it's hidden behind an embankment. This place used to be such fun - people swam, fished, ice skated and picnicked on the shores. But starting in the 1960s, the lake entered a phase of neglect it has yet to emerge from. You can see the potential. Walkers, runners, bicyclists, visitors to the Mann and Please Touch, and the zoo, which is only 1.4 miles away, as well as West Parkside residents and school children, are all potential visitors. The lake's already been dredged, thanks to the Fairmount Park Conservancy, and now that the garden-club volunteers have raised $238,000, they're ready to start building a new pathway that will wind around the lake and lawns. Then comes the planting - 139 native trees, 513 native shrubs - plus signs, picnic and play areas, even a small amphitheater. Welcome news in this depressing recession! This is actually a historic spot, part of a huge master plan the Conservancy has committed to. Machinery Hall was on this site during the nation's Centennial Exhibition in 1876. That magnificent building, like almost all the others that entertained and enlightened 10 million visitors, was torn down and a storm-water reservoir put in place. This later became Concourse Lake. So let's hear it for the volunteers from Philadelphia-area garden clubs, and the GCA, for taking on this worthwhile project and hope that soon the lake will rise again.