Forget the Art Museum steps. When real life Philly boxing champ Joe Frazier wanted to train, he hit the trails.
There was one Fairmount Park trail he liked particularly, probably because its steep hills and winding twists offered an intense workout punctuated by beautiful views. Frazier was on the trail so often it’s supposedly where Muhammad Ali sought him out for the challenge that led to the “Fight of the Century.”
On Saturday, Sept. 9, Philadelphians can check it out for themselves as part of the sixth annual Boxers’ Trail 5k Run/Walk.
For decades, the Frazier-favored path had no particular name, though it continued to be a common training route for area boxers, and was also popular among schoolkids in the neighborhood.
“I remember hiking along it as a child,” said Tonnetta Graham, longtime area resident and president of the Strawberry Mansion CDC. “There were lots of nooks and crannies we explored.”
That was back in the ‘80s. But at the turn of the millennium, the path got a makeover. As the first official joint project between Fairmount Park and the Fairmount Park Conservancy, the trail was smoothed and somewhat pruned, though not enough to ruin its natural beauty. Started in 2001 and completed in 2009, the project also gave the path an official name: Boxers’ Trail.
Saturday’s run/walk — put on by Philly Parks and Recreation in partnership with the SMCDC, the Conservancy and several other community groups — is a celebration of the route’s history. It will feature teams of boxers from rec centers around the city competing for a trophy prize, and an exhibition match afterwards.
But the event is also designed as an enticement to get more people using the trail — and into that part of the park in general.
“I’ve always thought East Fairmount Park was one of those little-known Philadelphia gems,” said Martha Moffat, one of the organizers of the 5k and site manager for Woodford Mansion, one of several historic estates lined up along the Schuylkill. In contrast with West Fairmount Park — home to the Please Touch Museum, Belmont Plateau, Mann Center and other destinations — “East Park” isn’t as well-known as its cross-the-river counterpart, Moffat said.
And as for Boxers’ Trail itself, Moffat discovered its existence only relatively recently, which is why she helped launch the inaugural 5k in 2012. “If I didn’t know about it, I realized most other people almost certainly didn’t know about it!”
Over the past five years, the Boxers’ Trail run/walk has evolved and grown, and it’s now the kick-off to the slew of festivities that make up the annual Strawberry Mansion Day.
“The run/walk was about tying the community together to the park resources and the park houses,” said Graham, “so the idea came about that maybe when people come to the neighborhood in the morning, they’ll want to stay the whole day.”
This year, there’s even more for people who come to watch or participate. (Registration is $20-25 or free if you live in the neighborhood, and is open to adults and kids of all ages. Proceeds benefit nearby Mander Playground and the East Fairmount Park Coalition.)
In addition to the many resource tables, live entertainment, free refreshments, talent showcases and kids’ activities that make up over the Strawberry Mansion Day fair, which regularly attracts several thousand attendees, there’s also a pop-up beer garden right nearby. If you wear a race t-shirt to Parks on Tap at Mount Pleasant Mansion on Saturday, you’ll get a free beer (21+).
“It’s just a great day,” Moffat said. “Boxers’ Trail is cool living history, since boxers still use it!”