Mapping Our Watershed: Field Notes from Renninger Park

Mapping Our Watershed is a project that’s ultimately about encouraging people to connect more deeply with the waterways in their community. So a big part of this project is about spending time with the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford watershed in Cheltenham Township. To do so, I am conducting a series of what I call “field visits,” where I explore, take photographs, make sketches and notes, gather soil, and document my experience. The information and materials I gather will become a mixed media art piece–an experiential map of that place. 

Today I went to Renninger Park in Glenside. A portion of the park is taken up by a sports field and swimming pool; the section that Tookany Creek runs through is wooded, with a playground. When I arrived I noticed many parents trying to pull their toddlers away from the creek and keep them on the swings or climbing structure. Nature is a powerful draw–those kids probably just wanted to put their hands in the water. 

This section of the creek is particularly flood-prone; the water has been channelized and redirected and forced through pipes in numerous locations. By attempting to contain the water, humans have achieved the opposite: in heavy rains, the water isn’t absorbed into the ground and flows much too quickly through the culverts, resulting in a flashy creek–one where the water rises very quickly. The evidence of this is significant erosion. In many places the tree roots that are holding the soil together are exposed and sections of the bank have washed away. I was fascinated by the roots, and made some sketches of them with acorn ink–images made from a tree, of a tree. I also made rubbings of tree bark. 

I am excited to share experiences like this–observing, noticing, documenting–with others in my community during the series of free workshops that is at the heart of this project. To learn more about the project, and to get links to workshop descriptions, go here

And stay tuned for the next post, where I’ll share my process of using natural and non-toxic materials to create my Renninger Park map! 


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