Trailhead of the Month: Houston Playground & Meadow
This month we visit a multi-use trailhead in the Andorra neighborhood that serves as an access point into the Wissahickon and an under-represented type of habitat in the greater Philadelphia region ̶ the meadow. Houston Playground is located at 900 Grakyn Lane, Philadelphia, 19128. There is ample street parking here, and it’s just a short walk from the # 62 SEPTA bus stop at Grakyn Lane and Sagamore Road. The playground itself has a sprayground as well as the usual playground attractions. The recreation center in this location offers many programs. Learn more here: houstonplayground.net
For a more natural experience, follow the concrete path between the playground and the hockey rink to the chain link fence. There you can access the natural surface trail down into Houston Meadow. Turn right and continue along the trail between the tree line and the fence to reach the multi-use trail that meanders through meadow. This trail is open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, so please use caution and be courteous to your fellow trail users by following the proper trail yield guidelines (symbol to the right).
Take your time on this trail and stop to smell the wildflowers in this 48-acre forest and meadow habitat. Created as a part of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s (PPR) Houston Meadow Reclamation project, completed in 2013, the meadow was seeded with native warm-season grasses and wildflowers (click here for a detailed plant survey of the meadow), while nesting boxes for bluebirds and kestrels were installed to further enhance the wildlife habitat. Keith Russell, Program Manager for Urban Conservation at Audubon PA, surveyed this location extensively and found more rare birds were calling Houston Meadow their home post-restoration (see page 10), which was one of the main goals of PPR’s reclamation project. Additionally, Desmond O’Donovan, a senior at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, conducted bird surveys in both Houston and Andorra Meadows from fall 2015 through spring 2016. You can see his extensive findings here.
Turn left upon entering Houston Meadow and you will experience both the woods and meadow habitat over the next ¾ mile of trail. Turn left again, once you reach the Yellow Trail intersection, and in less than a ¼ mile you will reach Forbidden Drive and Bells Mill Road. Turn right onto Forbidden Drive, and in approximately a half mile you can see the historic Red Covered Bridge at Thomas Mill Road, the only covered bridge standing within the boundaries of a major U.S. city. Originally built in 1737, the Covered Bridge (pictured right) is one of the most photographed structures in Wissahickon Valley Park.
Backtrack slightly on Forbidden Drive if you want to head back up to the meadow via the Yellow Trail or continue along Forbidden Drive for approximately half a mile to reach the Rex Avenue Bridge and Arch (across the bridge/creek). Look up, and you can see the historic Tedyuscung statue (pictured left) across the creek more visible in the winter months). This kneeling warrior was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Henry and carved in 1902 by John Massey Rhind (1860-1936).
Backtrack slightly on Forbidden Drive again to follow an access trail to Houston Meadow. Go straight at the next four-way intersection to continue back toward the playground through the meadow. In approximately 4/10 of a mile you will pass an access trail on the left that is open to horseback riders and hikers; it leads to Courtesy Stable. This equestrian facility offers opportunities to the public in all areas of horseback riding, horse care, and horse health; it is maintained by the Boarders and Stewards of Courtesy Stable as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Bikers can continue on through the meadow to the next trail on the left, which will take you back to our starting point!
Houston Meadow and the surrounding trails are picturesque and teeming with wildlife all year-round. FOW is offering some great hikes along these trails in the fall, so keep an eye on the FOW event calendar. Some of these hikes qualify for the All Trails Challenge! We hope you can set aside an afternoon to explore this section of the Wissahickon sometime soon. See you on the trails!
Written by Sarah Marley, FOW Outreach Manager