Richard Feliciano Velez, 7, tests the water feature of the River Alive! Learning Trail turtle sculpture at Tacony Creek Park Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

There’s a new fox sculpture in Tacony Creek Park, and it reminds Dalila Bedoya a whole lot of the live foxes she’s seen outside her house in the Juniata Park neighborhood.

“They were able to get the personality of a real fox,” said Bedoya, who’s lived near the park for 23 years and sits on the board of the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership. “I get to see them in front of my house, playing, grabbing things … stealing shoes and balls.”

The fox sculpture isn’t the only recently installed figure of an animal familiar to the Tacony Creek watershed: you can find a fish, a turtle, a watersnake, a heron, and a river otter distributed amongst the grass nearby Cayuga Street, too.

The sculptures are colorful, with crevices designed to pour water into to watch it flow to their mosaic-tiled bases.

It’s all part of the park’s new “River Alive! Learning Trail,” based on Independence Seaport Museum’s interactive “River Alive” exhibit. The project brings animal sculptures, new seating, crosswalk murals, and a dose of watershed education to a grassy area around Ferko Playground.

“When I see something like this here, I’m so proud,” said Heriberto Reyes, a community member who comes to the park pretty much every day and participated in the artwork’s installation. “I’ve never seen something like this before.”

Eddie Heriberto (center), his son, Mario, 12,(left) and friend Freddy, 12, enjoy playing baseball at Tacony Creek Park and help maintain River Alive! Learning Trail Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

The River Alive! Learning Trail, funded by the William Penn Foundation, came out of a 3-year-long collaboration between the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, local planning and design studio Habithèque, the Youth Volunteer Corps of Philadelphia, and local artists Miguel Horn and Jay Coreano.

The new installation aims to bring the spirit of the museum’s exhibit to an outdoor space where it could “meet people where they are” and intersect with people’s regular day-to-day activities, said Victoria Prizzia, founder of Habithèque.

A big part of the idea was to create an educational experience for kids ages 3 to 5 with the help of their “first teachers,” Prizzia said — meaning people like parents or older siblings who help kids learn before they formally start school.

To that end, each sculpture is paired with nearby English and Spanish signs that have info about the animals, and other watershed-related fun facts. They also include QR codes that lead to songs about each animal by local music group City Love.

Those signs are installed atop blue, curvy benches — added to plans after conversations with the community made it clear more seating in the park was a big priority, Prizzia said.

The community also got involved in ways beyond just feedback. Nearby residents helped install the mosaic tiles at the sculpture bases, and high school students who are part of the Youth Volunteer Corps helped construct the benches.

The sculptures are part of an interactive exhibition about the importance of caring for the Delaware River watershed and all the beings it sustains Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

“It’s just magic,” said Coreano, a local artist who helped with design and community workshops and has done other public artwork in Juniata Park. “It’s very, very magical to see how many people can contribute towards one goal.”

At the sculptures’ unveiling ceremony on Wednesday, children climbed on them, poured water on them, and had their photos taken with them.

“My inspiration behind it was to create pieces that I could imagine children engaging with and being curious and exploring,” said Horn, the artist who led the design process for the sculptures. “And so far … that’s what they’ve been doing.”

Bedoya, the Juniata Park resident and TTF board member, thinks the learning trail will make people in the area feel special and give families another fun thing to do when they come to the park — which she said is already a popular destination for people both within and outside of Juniata Park.

“I think the children will look forward [to] something else, other than the slides and that,” Bedoya said. “It will be a really educational thing to be at the park.”

Jeremias Jaquez, 8, empties water onto the fish sculpture at the River Alive! Learning trail exhibit in Tacony Creek Park Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
Members of the Youth Volunteer Corps explore the River Alive! Learning Trail exhibit they helped create Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
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Asha Prihar

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...