Philadelphia News & Search
Bob Wargo was spin casting for trout in the fast-moving waters alongside the new Chester Creek Trail when he spotted an eagle perched 80 feet above him in an ancient oak tree.
Wargo wondered if reeling in a trout would provoke the eagle to swoop down and snatch the fish as it broke the water’s surface. He was willing to sacrifice dinner for the thrill of seeing the eagle up close.
But when Wargo finally landed a fish, the eagle didn’t move, and as he waded into the creek to continue fishing, it silently flew away.
Wargo, who works in nearby Lenni and often fishes the creek, wasn’t disappointed. “I’ve seen the eagle before,” he said. “I like watching him. It’s so relaxing here after work, just being out in nature.”
The late Mike Fusco, seen as the father of the 2.8-mile Chester Creek Trail that runs through Aston and Middletown townships in Delaware County, would have smiled knowingly.
Fusco’s vision of people loving “just being out in nature” inspired him to persevere through 20 years of legal, funding and engineering complexities involved in building the paved $6.5 million trail on an abandoned 19th century rail bed. A founder of Friends of the Chester Creek Branch in 1994, Fusco led the trail-building campaign until his sudden death at the age of 56 in February 2014, shortly after he’d hiked along the Creek in heavy snow.
Barry Pinkowicz, who worked side-by-side with Fusco, remembered his friend’s optimism during an initial, intimidating meeting in the mid-‘90s with the Delaware County Council and SEPTA, which owned the long-shuttered Pennsylvania Railroad line.
“Mike and I walk into the room and there’s 18 people sitting around the table and most of them are lawyers,” Pinkowicz said. “They’re listening to us pitch this thing and they’re pounding us with how it isn’t going to work. Afterwards, Mike asked me, ‘How do you think we did?’ I said, ‘Oh Mike, there’s no way.’ He said: ‘You got to believe.’”
“Mike was like an old shoe,” Pinkowicz said affectionately. “You could trample him down but he stood his ground.”
Fusco, a longtime Aston resident and chemist and environmental health and safety director for an industrial waste, cleaning and recycling company, died knowing his trail dream would be realized. Days before his death, he had signed a dollar-a-year, 30-year sublease with Delaware County, which had leased the rail line from SEPTA.
“Mike never got to see the rails pulled up or the trees cut down” Pinkowicz said, walking a rebuilt trestle on the trail that will be dedicated as a Mike Fusco memorial. “But this trail is Mike’s legacy. It was his baby. He was the man.”
Andrew J. Reilly, the Delaware County Republican party chairman who supported Fusco’s vision during his eight years on the County Council, said, “I grew up in Lenni and as a kid, my friends and I walked over the rails and the trestles, shimmied down the tracks that were hanging over the side of the stream, dove into the water and shimmed back up the rails again.”
When Fusco and Pinkowicz took him on a walk along the proposed trail path in 2000, Reilly said he experienced it “exactly as I remembered it” from childhood and quickly embraced their vision.
First they had to resolve leasing, liability, maintenance, environmental and funding issues. “It’s like building a highway,” Reilly said. “It takes years and years of engineers to get to the point of putting a shovel in the ground.”
The $742,000 engineering costs and the $6.5 million for construction, which began two years ago, were primarily funded by the state and by the William Penn Foundation through the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Council.
Last month, Fusco’s widow, Valerie, cut the ribbon officially opening the Chester Creek Trail. Walking along it weeks later, she said, “It’s bittersweet because Mike can’t be here. That’s the sadness.”
Her husband was a lifelong nature lover, she said, always taking her on hiking and biking trips, ranging from Yosemite National Park to the Galapagos Islands.
She said he got the idea for the trail shortly after his father died suddenly from a cerebral aneurysm.
“When a parent who is healthy and strong dies like that, you realize how quickly life can end and you think of your own mortality,” she said. “Mike said to me, ‘Look at this natural beauty. It’s right in our backyard. People have to see this.’”
She paused near a favorite spot on the trail between towering, old growth forest and the creek, taking in the beauty that her late husband was determined to share with generations to come.
“Barry Pinkowicz said he admired Mike’s patience all those years,” she said. “Barry told me: Somebody else would’ve just thrown up their hands and given up.”
Philadelphia News & Search