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June 30, 2017

Officials crack down on swimming at popular Devil's Pool watering hole

Wissahickon Valley Park officials are urging people to stay away from Devil's Pool, a popular natural swimming hole known for cliff jumping that is fraught with danger.

Instead, Friends of the Wissahickon, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the Philadelphia police are asking people to use local public pools.

Devil's Pool remains one of the most popular attractions in the wooded enclave in Northwest Philadelphia that features an abundance of trails, wildlife and waterways.

During the summer months, visitors regularly wade into its water or jump from the cliffs that border the swimming hole, even though such activity is illegal. 

But doing so can be dangerous, park officials say. The Friends of the Wissahickon stressed those safety hazards in a website post on Tuesday.

"Like other Philadelphia rivers and streams, Devil’s Pool is not a designated swimming area, so it is unsupervised, and that alone makes it a hazardous place to swim. But there are many other dangers when swimming at this site: strong currents can lead to drowning, submerged objects can cause severe injury when jumping into the water, and poor water quality can result in skin infections and/or gastro-intestinal distress."

Four years ago, a Montgomery County teenager broke his neck and punctured a lung after he jumped into Devil's Pool from the stone bridge that stands 50 feet above the swimming hole. 

That same year, a father and his son drowned near Livezey Dam, slightly downstream from Devil's Pool. At least 17 people reportedly have been rescued from the area since 2010.

"I really want people to just be safe," FOW Executive Director Maura McCarthy said. "Please don't let your kids swim in there. If you're going to swim there, don't dive. Don't jump off the rocks."

Signs forbidding swimming will be posted near Devil's Pool – just as they are every summer, McCarthy said.

"There's a lot of danger here," McCarthy said. "When people are coming and partying and not thinking that clearly – there's a lot of risk there."

To enforce the swimming regulations, police officers and park rangers will have a greater presence in the park this summer. Violators will be given summary citations. 

Police will be stationed at Devil's Pool throughout the July 4 holiday weekend, McCarthy said. They also will appear there at other times throughout the summer, as will a team of volunteers.

Additionally, it is illegal to park at the Livezey Lane trailhead – the pathway closest to the secluded swimming hole – because it is the only direct entrance for emergency vehicles to gain access to and from Devil's Pool.

Illegally parked vehicles will be ticketed.

The fire department has responded to emergency calls within Wissahickon Valley Park on each of the last three weekends. Last weekend, a park visitor suffered a traumatic head injury after falling from the Fingerspan Bridge, a short distance from Devil's Pool.

"Often, people don't have cell reception down there," McCarthy said. "You can't call if there's an emergency. Once you do call, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours for service to come, depending on how bad the illegal parking is."

Devil's Pool has long served as a popular swimming spot for locals. But it gained wider exposure in 2011, when the New York Times published a picture of a woman leaping into the swimming hole from a cliff.

Soon afterward, park officials temporarily closed Devil's Pool to clean up trash and graffiti. 

Litter remains an ongoing problem at the heavily-trafficked area, park officials say. Cleanup crews recently pulled 68 bags of trash from Devil's Pool.