Jogger's legacy: More watchful eye on park dangers

With thousands of trees in Fairmount Park, how can city officials assure Philadelphians that they’re safe enough from a freak tree-falling accident like the one that took the life Wednesday of a promising city school teacher?

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis immediately had arborists look closely at the tree that dropped a huge limb on Mary Katherine Ladany and killed her instantly. He said it wasn’t diseased.

A worker from the Fairmount Park Operations Division measures the circumference of the tulip poplar tree that was the source of a fallen branch that killed Mary Katherine Ladany on August 5, 2009. ( Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer )

But now DiBeradinis is taking the next, necessary and smart step – to conduct a broader survey of trees along Forbidden Drive, the heavily used trail snaking up through the city’s northwest neighborhoods.

His statement, just issued this afternoon:

As a result [of] discussions with senior staff today, we will deploy park arborists to the Forbidden Drive to conduct a ‘sight survey’ for dangerous or diseased trees early next week, probably on Monday. By drawing arborists from around the system to support this effort, we hope to complete the inspection in one day.

That’s going to be somewhat reassuring to joggers, hikers and bikers who use the trail. The sight of fallen branches isn’t unusual, but injuries are rare – with only one other park death recalled over several decades.

But the best advice, of course, is for recreational trail users to remain as aware of their surroundings as possible. Obviously, getting away from it all in the woods doesn’t mean a complete escape from danger.