Fairmount Park's social-distance scavenger hunt unlocks summer fun during pandemic

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- The historic grounds of Fairmount Park have been a Philadelphia treasure now for nearly 200 years.

Perhaps this year, in the time of social distancing, it matters most.

"Getting outside is what we try to do as much as humanly possible and that's why this was the greatest thing when we discovered it," said Maureen Malloy, referring to the virtual scavenger hunt she embarks on with her daughter every week.

On first glance, it seems the annual one-day scavenger hunt tradition was spread thin by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Fairmount Park aficionado John Sigmund thinks it evolved the competition.

"The realities of having to stay at home has forced people to finally take the time to appreciate the treasures right here in our own city," said Sigmund, the Historic Houses Coordinator with Fairmount Park Conservancy.

He sees Fairmount Park as his home - literally. Sigmund lives and works at the Woodford Mansion, which is the first to reopen to public tours during the pandemic. It is one landmark location among six that stitch the scavenger hunt across 2,000 acres.

The historical significance of this and other nearby mansions are not lost on Sigmund and the Fairmount Park Conservancy, which hand-crafted this experience among others throughout the year. Thankfully, locals are discovering the same artifacts through the scavenger hunt.

A headless statue, a 215-year-old tree, and a crossing sign labeled, "Deer Jawn," are just a few that caught the attention of 7-year-old Avery Stopani.

"We answered a lot of questions. Of course, a lot of mine were wrong," she said.

Avery and her mother, Maureen, gear up to tackle the hunt every week.

"She remembers the names of the mansions when we're driving by," said Maureen about her daughter. "We're not grabbing anything but it's hands-on because she's actually doing all these things."

Anyone can join in the fun. First, hunters can download the free "GooseChase" app for their mobile devices. Upon searching for "Fairmount Park" and creating a team of 1-3 people, they can begin their expedition. A mix of GPS check-ins, photo and video challenges, and multiple-choice questions are centered around hubs throughout the park.

Teams are awarded prizes for weekly challenges up until Labor Day, when the scavenger hunt ends and grand prize winners are declared. These rewards include Fairmount Park Conservancy memorabilia along with gift cards for local minority-owned businesses.

"In past years, we have asked for donations from local businesses," said John Sigmund. However, this year, they are returning the favor, "based on the economic challenges, and especially because of a renewed awareness of the need to support minority-owned businesses," he said.

Fairmount Park Conservancy is a non-profit partner to the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department. To learn more about their scavenger hunt and how to participate, visit their website.

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