What It Was Like to Be the First Runner on the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk

At least, we *think* Philly Mag editor Tom McGrath was the first runner.

Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk | Photograph by Laura Kicey

Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk | Photograph by Laura Kicey

Last Friday, I got the chance to walk on water. And it was awesome.

All right, technically I was running—and it was over water—but you get the idea. I had the pleasure to be the first (maybe? I think?) person ever to run on the brand-new Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, which has its official opening tomorrow and hosts a sneak preview 5K tonight at 6:30 (sorry, it’s sold out). Why me as the ceremonial First Runner? Well, Philly Mag is working on a big package about running in Philly, and the powers that be at the Schuylkill River Development Corp. were nice enough to give us access to the Boardwalk to shoot some photos. Yeah, sometimes it’s cool to work at a magazine.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch the Boardwalk rising from the river for the last year or so, gazing out at it every day from my office window at 19th and Market. At first it was a head-scratcher—what the hell are they doing out there in the water? When I finally understood what it was—a continuation of the river trail from Locust Street to South Street, only jutting out into the water because the railroad tracks hug so closely to the banks on that side of the river—the runner in me got fired up. Like most Philly runners, I’ve spent my share of time striding along the Schuylkill, but the chance to be on top of it?

I’m happy to report it’s as cool as we all imagined. As humans, we’re drawn to rivers for lots of reasons, including how beautiful—and calming—they can be. (It’s no accident that Kelly and MLK Drives host about a jillion road races every year.) But the chance to run on the Boardwalk, with the water beneath your feet, is a whole different sensation, one I’ve never felt before in Philly and one that made me a lot more aware of the river than I’ve ever been as a runner in this city. It also provides some stunning views, both looking at the Center City skyline and seeing the sun glisten off the Cira Centre on the west side of the river.

I have no doubt that the Boardwalk, which you can access from the north side of the South Street Bridge, is going to fast become a destination in its own rite. It’s not super wide, so it will be interesting to see whether it starts to feel congested, particularly on weekends, when I can imagine runners and cyclists and walkers flocking to it. But like this summer’s Spruce Street Harbor Park pop-up, the Boardwalk is another reminder that, yeah, Philly is a river city. And particularly if you’re a runner like me, that’s a cool thing.

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