Proud Stewards of One of Philly's Largest Parks: The Friends of the Wissahickon

Friends of the Wissahickon
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If you've ever explored Wissahickon Valley Park in northwest Philadelphia on foot, mountain bike, or horseback, chances are you've seen a sign or two installed by Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) noting trail reroutes or maintenance. You might have passed by these signs feeling either thankful for the trail work being done or frustrated that your planned route was interrupted. A few months later, you might have enjoyed the new or rebuilt trail for the first time, on firmer and more ecologically friendly ground.

Ultimately, thanks to diligent and ceaseless work from the Friends of the Wissahickon, one of Philadelphia's most beautiful and largest parks has been consistently maintained and enhanced for future generations to enjoy: Wissahickon Valley Park.

Volunteers plant a tree in Wissahickon Valley Park.
Volunteers plant a tree in Wissahickon Valley Park. Friends of the Wissahickon

Wissahickon Valley Park , fondly known as the "Wiss" to many Philly natives, is an 1800 acre urban oasis stretching from Manayunk all the way to Chestnut Hill. The Wiss represents roughly one-fifth of Fairmount Park, Philadelphia's 9,800 acre park system. Each week, the park receives about 2,000 visitors who stroll on wide, flat Forbidden Drive, climb the park's steep trails and rocky descents, and simply take solace in a hidden slice of nature.

While it's encouraging to know so many Philadelphians enjoy the park each week, that amount of traffic certainly takes a toll on the natural environment.

Founded in 1924, Friends of the Wissahickon are the proud stewards of the Wiss and the caretakers of its 57 miles of trails. In 1934, FOW raised funds to prevent demolition of the Valley Green Inn—a fully functioning restaurant in the middle of the park that still stands today.

Partnering with the park's owner—Philadelphia's Department of Parks and Recreation—the 1,600 member non-profit organization is still changing the way Philadelphians experience the park for the better 91 years later. The FOW are responsible for many initiatives occurring in the park daily, such as restoring and building trails, monitoring and managing the watershed, maintaining historical structures scattered throughout the park, and eliminating invasive insect species.

A family takes a walk on Forbidden Drive.
A family takes a walk on Forbidden Drive. Friends of the Wissahickon

The most visible Friends projects is the Sustainable Trails Initiative , which is an ongoing program developed to reroute and rebuild trails that are either unsafe or have proved to be negatively impacting the park. Since the park was formed around the Wissahickon Gorge hundreds of years ago, many trails were forged without planning, but rather for the sake of convenience by animals and settlers. The Sustainable Trails Initiative seeks to repair and reroute these trails that may be causing erosion, user conflicts, or negative ecological impacts. Additionally, the FOW are creating better trail markers and will eventually integrate the Wissahickon trail system into Philadelphia's 911 system. Whether you're an avid trail runner, a mountain bike aficianado, a hopeful horseback rider, or whimsical weekend hiker, the Wissahickon Valley Park has a trail for you. But the park can only exist in its current or improved state with help from volunteers such as the Friends of the Wissahickon. If you're interested in volunteering, click on their volunteer page to find out more.


RootsRated is partnering with Friends of the Wissahickon and Timberland for two big events during the week of September 14th:

Pint NightThursday, September 17th, 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM

A suggested $5 donation will get you a sweet pint glass and your first fill of craft brew, along with live music, good company, and more. All proceeds benefit Friends of the Wissahickon. The event takes place at the Timberland retail store at 1709 Walnut Street in Philadelphia.

Walnut Lane Cleanup Day in the Wissahickon- Saturday, September 19th, 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM

Thinking about volunteering with FOW? Come out to the cleanup day September 19th! It's dirty under the Walnut Lane Bridge and we don't want Pope Francis to see it! Meet at the corner of Magdalena Street and Roxborough Avenue at 9:00 AM. We'll see you there!


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