Paul vanMeter, advocate for park

Paul vanMeter
Paul vanMeter
Posted: February 14, 2014

Paul vanMeter, 54, of Wyomissing, Pa., known for his vision of creating a park along the Reading Co. railroad viaduct in Philadelphia, died Thursday, Feb. 6, of cardiac arrest at Reading Hospital.

A landscape gardener who had a passion for railroads, Mr. vanMeter spent years photographing and giving tours of the Reading viaduct. In 2010, he founded Viaductgreene, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the viaduct north of Vine Street into a park. He imagined it as a space similar to the High Line in New York City, said his longtime friend Rick Darke.

Mr. vanMeter was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Reading. He graduated from Reading High School in 1977 after taking a year off of school to work on the Bicentennial American Freedom Train, a traveling exhibit. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1982 with a degree in horticulture and ornamental nursery management.

As a landscape gardener, Mr. vanMeter ran Flowers by vanMeter in Wyomissing and West Reading with his ex-wife, Christine Gilfillan, from 1985 to 2007. Mr. vanMeter also ran his own business, Usona Gardens, for private landscaping projects, his ex-wife said. She said he was also a photographer, painter, and writer.

After Mr. vanMeter and Gilfillan divorced in 2007, he worked on landscaping projects with Donald Pell Gardens in Phoenixville.

Viaductgreene "was his heart and soul," she said, combining his love for green space and railroads.

Darke said Mr. vanMeter had an "encyclopedic knowledge" of railroad history. He came up with the idea for the viaduct after meeting the organizers of the High Line.

"When he was a young child or teenager living in Reading, he sometimes took Reading trains that went over what is now the Ninth Street viaduct into Reading Terminal," Darke said. "So the viaduct for Paul was something that he had known about."

Mr. vanMeter later had disagreements with others involved with turning the viaduct into a park, Darke said. Some former members of his organization are leading a different group, Friends of the Rail Park.

No plans for a park along the railway have come to fruition. Friends of the Rail Park is planning to raise $8 million for a first phase that would transform the curving railroad tracks from Broad and Noble Streets to the elevated viaduct at 11th Street, said board member John Struble.

Darke said Mr. vanMeter wanted to preserve the natural vegetation that has grown in the abandoned area.

Mr. vanMeter continued to lead tours of the old railroad tracks two blocks north of Vine, and hoped to keep working on his plans for the viaduct, Darke said.

"When he addressed things like the viaduct, he brought the whole history of the city in, and he was very knowledgeable about gardens, garden-making and planning," Darke said.

A private memorial service will be in March.

Contributions may be sent to Friends of the High Line, 529 W. 20th St., No. 8W, New York, N.Y. 10011.

267-559-1264 @Lmccrystal

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