Ambassadors For Nature: Friends of the Wissahickon

by Sue Caskey

Joining the Trail Ambassador program is more than just showing people around the park.

Urban parks get heavy use, and the Wissahickon Valley Park is no exception. Its steep slopes attract mountain bikers and hikers, and equestrians have ridden here for centuries. The variety of activities in the park, as well as the unique wild-like natural environment results in over a million visits each year.


Weekends especially bring out scores of bikers, hikers, walkers, horseback riders, birders and fishing enthusiasts of all ages. Without constant conservation efforts, erosion would completely silt in the Wissahickon Creek, and cause permanent damage to the vegetation along the steep sides of the Gorge.


It’s natural for kids to want to play in the water – throwing rocks, splashing their faces, picking out rocks and shells from the stream Yet water quality can sometimes make this dangerous, either following heavy rain or in summer when water levels are low and concentrations of pollutants is dense. Bringing children to the park to learn responsible use is a goal of the Friends of the Wissahickon.


Volunteer hikes bring out geology and trail enthusiasts. They make up part of the more than one million visitors to the park each year. The FOW works to engage users with experiences like these to foster learning about the connected systems that lead to healthy plants, water and wildlife.

Untitled4This Southeastern PA portion of the Department of Natural and Conservation Resources Geological Survey Map 1 shows surface rocks in the Wissahickon. Represented by the green stripe along the lower right corner of the map, these rocks do not appear anywhere else in the state. In addition, much of these surface rocks show evidence of being thrust to the surface some 200 million years ago, in what may have been a major tectonic event in which two plates crashed into each other right along this line. This geology is what created the Wissahickon Gorge, not water erosion as in many other places.


Rinker’s Rock, on which stands a monument to Toleration with a likeness of William Penn, is an example of the massive rock formations along the Gorge that jut out of earth along the Creek.


Volunteers getting into the “axe” with heavy duty trail work – covering over rogue trails, moving signage and rocks which in this Wissahickon is no small feat


For Earth Day, the FOW organizes a very successful stream cleanup volunteer event each year. Here John Holback, the volunteer Coordinator, explains that taking trash out of the stream improves drinking water for more than 300 million Philadelphians.


A visitor to the Wissahickon Valley Park points out one of the covered bridges in the park. This kiosk and map illustration is part of a new signage effort, which added new maps and direction posts throughout the park to help visitors find their way through the Gorge. With over 50 miles of trails and numerous historical sights, making access easier is a key goal. The portion of the Park illustrated on this map is approximately seven miles in length.


Trails in the Wissahickon include some former roadways, routes through the city that are several hundred year old. The Battle of Germantown was fought very near this location, and one can imagine General Washington, Benjamin Franklin and other of our Founders taking these roads in and out of the city when Philadelphia was central to the fledgling United States. For the history and the unique environmental nature of the park, making efforts now to preserve the Wissahickon will protect it for the future.


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