The William Penn Foundation announced a multi-year commitment to spend $35 million for protecting the Delaware River watershed as a critical source of drinking water for 15 million people. The foundation also plans to expand its watershed protection efforts with recreation trails.
The William Penn Foundation has supported trail building efforts since the late 1970s and early 1980s in line with the Clean Water Act. Since then, William Penn-supported trails have brought thousands of people to the banks of the rivers, streams and canals that make up the Delaware River Watershed. The connection between the trails and the waterways was not always emphasized, but that’s about to change.
In its most recent strategic planning process, the foundation emphasized its focus on water issues and started to look at the role that trails play. “With the foundation’s interest in water quality, because these trails are mostly along rivers, canals and streams, we view them more and more as a platform essential for reaching thousands of people who are right next to rivers about some sort of water quality message,” said Senior Program Officer Andrew Johnson.
The William Penn Foundation will continue to support The Circuit – the proposed 750-mile network of interconnected bicycle and recreation trails. Most recently the foundation awarded $250,000 to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission to support Circuit building efforts.
The second element will be to support a targeted set of environmental centers that are on both Circuit trails and waterways. These centers are seen as gateways to the trails and waterways and an access point where the William Penn Foundation can underscore the notion that the users’ experiences on trails are better because of the clean water.
The third element of the approach is programming, ranging from high quality art that conveys the value of clean water to technology that shows water quality data in an engaging or thought provoking way.
The William Penn Foundation is still working to identify the centers that it will work with and to select the waterside trail programming, but “it is something that is a high priority for this year,” Johnson said.
The foundation has started testing this targeted strategy in and around Philadelphia.