A Conversation with WeWalkPHL Ambassador Lee Scottlorde

This blog originally appeared on the Feet First Philly blog in July 2020. We Walk PHL is a partnership between Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, which is a Circuit Trails Coalition Public Partner, Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philly Powered. The group’s walking routes often include a few trails #OnTheCircuit, such as Pennypack on the Delaware and Tacony Creek Park.

WeWalk PHL organizes free walking groups throughout Philadelphia to encourage walking as a way to stay healthy.  WeWalk Ambassadors organize groups and help members stay physically active at everyone’s own pace while making new friends.

Feet First Philly reached out to  Ambassadors to ask them more about WeWalk and how it has changed their lives. Lee is currently a WeWalk Ambassador and a walk leader and organizer for Girltrek. As a part of the walking college fellowship, Lee is working on a walking action plan focused on improving walking options in Philadelphia in response to COVID-19.

Photo by Lee Scottlorde

Why did you join WeWalk and what has been your experience?

As a walk leader and organizer for Girltrek, the largest national public health organization that encourages Black women to walk 30 min a day for their health and wellbeing, I had already witnessed the impact walking can have – not only on personal wellness, but also community building.  So, when the opportunity presented itself to become a walk leader for We Walk PHL, I could not resist joining the ranks to share the good word about walking in Philadelphia’s beautiful green spaces to all communities.

The experience has been wonderful. I have connected with Philadelphians of all walks of life and engaged in so many meaningful conversations. Walking together built new relationships around caring for ourselves and our communities.

As a result of some of the observations of sidewalk conditions on our walking routes like cracked or missing sidewalks, I decided to learn how to take action to create improvements in our built environment. Currently, I have been selected as an America Walks 2020 Walking College Fellow. Through this fellowship, I will be equipped with the tools to make walking and rolling truly accessible for all Philadelphians in all neighborhoods, not just areas of gentrification.

Why do you walk/roll?

I walk and cycle because self-care is a revolutionary act.  As an African-American non-binary queer person who is also a parent, the stress of living in our society and enduring the impact of systemic racism can manifest physically. I walk to reduce my stress and increase the level of joy and natural beauty in my life. Nature is my refuge.

Where do you and your WeWalk group meet?

Before COVID, my We Walk Group met at 41st and Parkside, which is near the Please Touch Museum. From there we would travel together down to Concourse Lake which is a beautiful 14 acre Native Plant Park.

How can Philadelphia make park and trail walking environments safer for everyone?

The condition of the sidewalks in many of our parks, especially in communities of color, are lacking sidewalks or are broken. There needs to be an increase in funding to address these issues. Older and differently-abled residents have reported falling and seriously injuring themselves. We also need to begin to think more creatively about our roads, especially in the era of COVID, by considering closing more streets to vehicle traffic, like West River Drive has been closed to increase walkable options for those looking to exercise but remain socially distanced. Currently, most of our sidewalks do not allow for Philadelphians to safely pass each other and maintain the 6ft distance required to prevent COVID-19 transmission.  For example, on my walk route, there are two adjacent streets (Concourse Dr. and Avenue of the Republic) that would offer more opportunities to walk while socially distant, but these roads are currently without sidewalks, and walkers would be completely exposed to traffic.  These roads could be closed to vehicle traffic or painted with expanded bike lanes with safety poles (bollards) added to prevent vehicles from entering the lane.

Photo by Thom Carroll

Why do you think it’s important to complete the Circuit Trails?

Completing the Circuit Trails in our region is more important than ever because of the COVID-19  pandemic. Many communities are lacking green spaces and proper tree cover.  While those issues absolutely need to be addressed with urgency, the Circuit Trails offer opportunities to increase physical activity while safely socially distancing.  Our main trails such as the Schuylkill River Trail and Forbidden Drive have been densely populated during the pandemic, our residents need more trail options to keep themselves safe and healthy.

Why do you think walking/rolling is important?

Walking is an accessible inexpensive form of exercise. Often people believe that to improve our health we must get an expensive gym membership and perform crazy exercises to the point of exhaustion.  That is simply not true. Research has proven that walking 30 minutes a day can change almost every area of your health for the better. In We Walk PHL, we generally walk for an hour.

What makes Philadelphia a great walking/rolling city?

Philadelphia is a very walkable city. From most areas, we can walk/cycle downtown in under 4 miles. There are so many landmarks scattered throughout the city that can turn any walk into a historical adventure.

WeWalk Ambassador Lee Scottlorde and her walking group

What could make it better?

Increasing safety in communities of color would increase walkability. However, the solution has nothing to do with policing. The solution lies at the root of what causes our young people to resort to violence to survive. Philadelphia needs to increase the quality of its education system and guarantee that all students have access to vocational training, mental health resources, and social services to support their development and wellbeing. Advocating for walkable communities goes beyond the built environment.

If you could make one change to your WeWalk route what would it be?

It is a tie between improving lighting for evening walkers and protected bike/walking lanes for Concourse Dr. and Avenue of the Republic.

Outside of your WeWalk group, where is your favorite place to walk in Philadelphia?

My two favorite places to walk are the Boxer’s Trail at 33rd and Diamond and Bartram Gardens at 54th and Lindbergh Blvd. Bartram Garden has an amazing African Heritage Farm named Sankofa Community Farm, which has a farmer’s market on Thursdays 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

To learn more about WeWalkPHL and to get involved, join their Facebook group here.

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