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5 hidden gems in Philly’s parks and neighborhoods

Some of Philly’s coolest kid-friendly spaces may be just around the corner…and totally free!

Today's guest blogger is George Matysik, executive director of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance. He also writes for the Park Alliance blog Green Countrie Towne. This is the second part of Matysik's recommendations of hidden gems in Philadelphia's park and rec system.

Last month, I provided a list of five hidden gems to check out in our city. Here are my next five recommendations off the beaten path. Like I said before, some of Philly's coolest kid-friendly spaces may be just around the corner…and totally free!

1. Malcolm X ParkWhen it comes to public space in Philly, it's hip to be square. Beginning with Thomas Holme's five squares in the grid he designed for Philadelphia, this concept was extended throughout much of the city. Far beyond Rittenhouse and Franklin squares, you'll find Wharton, McPherson, and Mifflin squares that create neighborhood pride.

Perhaps no square beyond Center City creates so much identity for a neighborhood as Malcolm X Park in West Philly. Bordering on the always animated 52nd Street, Malcolm X park draws heavily from both "The Strip," as well as the quiet Cedar Park residential neighborhood nearby. It's a great gathering spot for parents and kids looking for some open green space.

The Friends of Malcolm X Park are also renowned for their programming to draw in more residents—including the beloved Jazz Night which takes place every other Thursday during the summer season. In short, there's nothing square about this square.

2. Tookany Creek ParkIf there's a place where I learned to "love my park," this is it. Tookany Creek Park is perhaps the most overlooked of Philly's seven watershed parks, yet Tookany is one of its most critical and endangered. Just this May, SPS Technologies in Abington and a former factory at Wyncote Commons in Cheltenham were ID'd for illegal discharges into the water, which is a constant problem for this space. Yet our good friends at Tookany/Tacony Watershed Partnership are always on the case—and have been working diligently to clean the park up—with a great deal of success.

With an enhanced trail network, a new trail ambassador program, and added police detail—Tookany Creek Park is a welcoming space for the Southern edge of Northeast Philly. Go for a stroll or a bike ride and check out the amazing wildlife. When you're done, swing by the adjacent Juniata Golf, a city run course that's great for all experience levels.

3. Burholme ParkAs all Northeast Philadelphians know, there's one special community space that literally rises above the rest—Burholme Park. I dare you to find a Northeast native without fond memories of this place.

Created from the old Ryerss estate, the sprawling Burholme Park seemingly has it all. Playing fields, mini-golf, batting cages, and of course…the world's greatest sledding hill. The estate's mansion, former home of the Ryerss family, operates today as museum—free and open to the public—all stemming from the Ryerss family will which stated the estate would be left to "the people of Philadelphia, forever."

4. Public Ice Skating Rinks

Winter will be here before we know it, and ice skating is a great way to get some exercise! Philadelphia's Department of Parks and Recreation operates five ice skating rinks, in partnership with Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation!

The ice rinks are free (though skate rentals may cost a few dollars) and are spread across the city:

  1. South Philly: Rizzo Rink, 1101 S Front Street

  1. Oak Lane: Simons Ice Rink, 7200 Woolston Avenue

  1. Lower Northeast Philly: Tarken Ice Rink, 6250 Frontenac Street

  1. West Philly: Laura Sims Ice Rink, 63th and Walnut

  1. Juniata: Scanlon Ice Rink, J & Tioga

5. Hunting ParkNo public space in Philadelphia better exemplifies the need to invest in public spaces than Hunting Park. Hunting Park is one of those places that every Philadelphian over 50 grew up visiting, and every Philadelphian under 50 needs to visit. For years, sporadic investment plagued Hunting Park, leaving it in dire need of repair.

Thankfully, a 2009 effort led by the Fairmount Park Conservancy made a multi-million dollar public and private commitment to bringing this space back to its former glory. Today, new fields, playgrounds, courts, and orchards adorn this sprawling green space just off the Roosevelt Boulevard at 9th Street. Check out this video from MSNBC's Nightly News.

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