- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Thousands of bikers, joggers and walkers exercise each week along a scenic path in Philadelphia that travels past the iconic art museum and colorful Boathouse Row, following the curves of Schuylkill River’s east bank.

Now, they can walk on water.

Officials on Thursday christened the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, a new leg of the popular trail that used to end near Locust Street. Now, it takes an abrupt turn into the river and then parallels the shore for four blocks above water before coming back to land near the South Street Bridge.

“There’s nothing else like this,” said Richard Gross, 67, as he snapped photos.

Gross, of Philadelphia, said he regularly uses the route and has anxiously watched construction workers over the past two years build it from the water up.

The winding, gray concrete pathway gives visitors the unique sensation of having water on both sides of them, Joseph Syrnick, president and CEO of the Schuylkill River Development Corp., said Tuesday as he walked the 15-foot-wide boardwalk prior to its opening.

“You feel like you’re on the river,” Syrnick said, noting the similarity between the scoring of the concrete and traditional New Jersey shore boardwalks. “This becomes a destination spot.”

The $18 million structure serves as small but crucial link in what planners hope will be a 130-mile trail from Schuylkill County to Philadelphia. About 60 miles of the trail are finished, according to the Schuylkill River Trail Association.

The segment that winds through Philadelphia has become increasingly popular in recent years with the addition of a skateboard park, bike rentals and outdoor programming such as movies and music. The Schuylkill River also hosts major collegiate and high school regattas.

Within minutes of Thursday’s ribbon cutting, hundreds of runners and bikers took advantage of the path’s nearly half-mile extension.

“It was mesmerizing to see that something was happening, but you couldn’t get to it,” said Joyce Michel, of Philadelphia. “Now that you’re up here, it’s cool.”

Planners were limited in their ability to extend the trail past Locust Street because of railroad tracks that run alongside it, Syrnick said. Now that the connector has been built, he said officials plan to keep pushing the path southward in an effort to spur development and economic growth.

Patrick Starr, executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, said as he walked the trail that he didn’t realize how much of a connection it made with the neighborhood.

“It transformed it into a great place that everybody wants to be at,” said Starr, who is also involved with The Circuit, a network of 300 miles of trails in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. “It’s opened a whole new playground for Philadelphians.”

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