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July 23, 2021

Wissahickon Valley Park deemed a 'hot spot' for littering, overuse

The popular Philly woodlands are beloved, but the multitudes of visitors have had an adverse impact

Nature Parks
Wissahickon Park Hot Spot Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Wissahickon Valley Park was named a 'hot spot' for severe human-related impact by the nonprofit Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics due to excessive trash and erosion.

An environmental protection organization is hosting several events at Wissahickon Valley Park this weekend in hopes of reducing the human toll on the popular woodland area. 

The nonprofit Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has designated the Philadelphia park as one of its annual "hot spots" suffering from severe human-related impact. It cited excessive trash, trail erosion and damage to vegetation and trees. It has developed a plan that will help restore the Wissahickon and put preventative measures in place. 

"High concentrations of visitors have led to visitor conflicts, pet waste issues, and excessive litter, among a multitude of other impacts," Leave No Trace wrote on its website. 

The organization is leading a series of workshops, outreach programs and community events this weekend. 

The events include a park clean-up Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. It will focus on the Valley Green parking lots, Devil's Pool and Magargee Dam. Afterward, volunteers can guess the weight of the trash collected during the service day and participate in outdoor games at the Valley Green Inn. 

On Sunday, there will be a water walk from 9 a.m. to noon and a public workshop to discuss community building and highlight Leave No Trace practices. People can register for the free events online.

Wissahickon Valley Park's attendance has doubled over the last decade, according to Ruffian Tittmann, executive director of Friends of the Wissahickon. It now totals more than 2 million visitors per year. 

Attendance surged so much during the COVID-19 pandemic that at one point Mayor Jim Kenney mulled closing the park. But that was mostly to prevent people from contracting the coronavirus. 

"We've attempted to give people, with the appropriate precautions, the ability to exercise and get some time out of their imprisonment," Kenney said in April 2020. "But that's not off the table. If it continues and we start seeing numbers that are more concerning than they are already, that's certainly an option for us to do."

Additionally, the park has frequently sought to reduce foot traffic to Devil's Pool, a popular rock-jumping basin that empties into the Wissahickon Creek, mostly due to the danger it presents. But trash also has built up there. 

In being named a "hot spot" by the Leave No Trace Center, the 1,800-acre park joins some of the country's most impacted parks, Patch reported.

Leave No Trace gets several applications for its "hot spot" designation each year and selects 10 parks to help. The Wissahickon was nominated in 2019, but the pandemic pushed back its official designation to 2021.

"We look for sites that are in danger of being loved to death," Erin Collier, of Leave No Trace, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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