tribune correspondent

Neighbors, friends and nature enthusiasts gathered at Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center in West Philadelphia to attend the annual Fall Fest.

The parking lot as well as the driveway leading to the center at 700 Cobbs Creek quickly filled up with vehicles as people of all ages came to participate in the activities that included pony rides, nature tours, cider pressing and exotic animals.

“The pony rides were the courtesy of the Fletcher stables of which the movie ‘Urban Cowboy’ depicted and inside the building, the Academy of Natural Sciences hosted a presentation called ‘animals with bad reputations’” said Alicia Burbage, CCCEC’s outreach coordinator.

“We had a skunk, we had a vulture and some other animals I can’t remember the names of,” she added.

“You hear about some animals but when you see them up close it’s a whole different experience, a different adoration for animals and respect for nature and the environment,” Burbage said.

The outdoors activities complemented an arts and crafts fair, where guests could have their faces painted, decorate pumpkins and listen as illustrator Kate Garchinsky read from her book “The Secret Life of the Skunk.”

“We do a few big events a year to get everybody out and enjoy the park,” said Tony Croasdale, an environmentalist for the park. “We’re just here to provide the community with stuff to do.”

Asked how challenging organizing such an event was, Croasdale said it was hard work but described it as a “labor of love.”

“It’s definitely a lot of hard work but people were responsive and ready to help,” he said.

Harriett Victoria Atkerson describes herself as an activist who wants to maintain the historical integrity of the park, whose 851 acres are managed by the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department.

“We need to make sure that this legacy stays here and let people know that this was built by us. I know that they are gentrifying the whole neighborhood but this is not gentrifiable because we built this,” said Atkerson.

Atkerson says the park and the center are important to the community’s youth.

“We want our children to be science oriented. We want them to know that the environment that they live in is supporting and we need to teach them to take care of it,” she said.

“That’s why the Founders established this place in the first place. We also want our children to know that there are careers in the environmental sciences that they can take advantage of and they can become a part of,” she added.

Atkerson said she was pleased with the turnout for the event but that much work needed to be done to spread the word about the existence of the environmental center.

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