by Lizzie Stricklin

One needs only to take a stroll down Forbidden Drive to see the countless trails that branch off from the main path into trees and extend throughout all of Wissahickon Valley Park. Trekking all of these trails may seem like a daunting task for the average nature enthusiast, but the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) hope to inspire more people to do so as they launch the All Trails Challenge.

As of August 20, registration is open for the All Trails Challenge, in which participants are encouraged to explore all 50 miles of the Wissahickon Valley Park in any way they choose – on a bike, horse, or their own two feet. Along the way, participants can be sponsored by their friends and family to raise money to support the FOW’s restoration projects. As participants log their miles trekked, they can receive prizes for reaching fundraising and mileage goals.

“We have been looking for ways to bring in new park users and to engage new audiences,” said FOW publicist Erin Mooney. “The All Trails Challenge was an idea we’ve been thinking about for several years and decided to launch it this year. We’ve been thrilled with the level of interest so far – less than a week since its launch. Frequent park users are excited to explore new areas of the park and those new to the Wissahickon are energized about the challenge itself as well as the opportunity to explore a new area of Philadelphia.”

Wissahickon Valley Park contains 50 miles of forest trails from West Northwestern Avenue to Lincoln Drive. Although this vast expanse of trails may seem intimidating to prospective participants, Mooney explained that everyone should be able to complete the challenge.

“Those who register for the All Trails Challenge have more than three months to complete the challenge, so the 50-mile challenge should be relatively easy to achieve in that time period,” said Mooney. “People can do a mile a day, or break it up into 10 five-mile hikes or do it any way they would like. We’ve designed the All Trails Challenge to be easily achieved by individuals as well as groups and even for families with young children. The goal of the Challenge is to complete all 50 miles, but participants can hike, bike or ride their horse as many miles in the park as they would like.”

The challenge ends on Nov. 29, giving participants about three months to traverse all of the trails. However, participants may plan to complete the challenge in any way they choose.

Participants are encouraged to track their mileage on apps such as Map My Run or Strava, so friends and family can sponsor them, contributing money for every mile. The money raised will support the FOW’s efforts to restore and maintain the park, including their work on “trail maintenance, erosion control, outreach and education as well as overall management of the park.”

“Our goal for the All Trails Challenge is not a financial one,” Mooney explained. “We simply want to introduce people to the park and engage the community in the amazing natural resource that is the Wissahickon Valley Park. We’re so lucky to have the Wissahickon here in Philadelphia, and the more people who love it means that we will have more people who will be willing to help protect it so that the resource is here for future generations.”

In addition to bragging rights and pride, participants also have the opportunity to win dozens of prizes. For participants who trek the most miles or raise the most money, the top prizes include a five-day/four-night trip to Punta Cana, a weekend trip to a Pennsylvania resort, iPads, and a night on the town in Philadelphia. Throughout the three months of the challenge, the FOW will also be giving out “surprise goodies,” “swag bags,” and countless other giveaways to the hardworking participants.

Prospective competitors are encouraged to start their expedition throughout the park as soon as possible and join the 150+ participants already hiking, biking, or riding through the trails. The All Trails Challenge gives lovers of the Wissahickon a chance to enjoy the whole park while also giving back to the organization that maintains it.

The only advice Mooney had for participants was: “Get ready to have fun! Get a map of the park, get your friends and get ready to be challenged and amazed by the wonders of the Wissahickon!”

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