by Emerson Max
On any given hot summer day, scores of people flock to the infamous Devil’s Pool in Wissahickon Valley Park. While Devil’s Pool may provide a respite from the blistering heat and humidity of the city, swimming in the pool is illegal, and this is only to ensure the safety of park visitors.
Devil’s Pool has long been a landmark in the Northwestern region of Philadelphia, but its popularity as a swimming spot has significantly gone up in recent years. Countless people visit the park every day to hike, walk their dogs, or just to enjoy the beautiful natural landscape the park offers, but many are unaware of the hidden “swimming hole” that so many illegally frequent.
The main reason for prohibiting swimming in Devil’s Pool is safety. Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) and Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation, who care for the 1,800-acre park, want to encourage visitors to enjoy themselves as long as they are not putting themselves in danger.
Maura McCarthy, executive director of FOW, said that swimming in the pool is extremely unsafe.
“There are no lifeguards and it has a rocky stream foundation with loads of buried sediment and debris,” she said. “That is how a father and son drowned several years ago – they became entangled in some immersed debris.”
The father and son McCarthy was referring to were Pete Luciano and his 13-year-old son Jordan who drowned in Devil’s Pool in the Wissahickon Creek. Pete Luciano noticed his son struggling to swim in the creek and jumped in to assist him. Three of Pete’s other children watched in horror as neither of them surfaced.
Another risk for pool goers is the option to jump from the rocks or the bridge that surround Devil’s Pool. In 2013, 18-year-old Anthony Cano took a day off from his senior year at Wissahickon High School to visit Devil’s Pool. Cano decided to be bold and to leap into the water from the bridge that looms more than 50 feet above the pool. Unfortunately, Cano did not land in the right spot, and his “bold leap” left him almost paralyzed after a month rehabilitating at Einstein Medical Center.
There are much lower areas that people commonly jump from, but this can also prove to be highly dangerous. Water levels at Devil’s Pool fluctuate, and the pool is often too shallow to safely cushion jumper’s falls. There are also jagged rocks and other dangers inside the water, so jumping from any height is an ill-advised decision.
Even casual swimming in Devil’s Pool can be dangerous.
“The water in the Wissahickon Creek is problematic,” McCarthy said. “It serves as drinking water for the city, but only after it has been treated. In August, when it’s dry, up to 90 percent of the flow of the Wissahickon can be treated effluent from one of the four upstream treatment plants. At any given time, the water in Devil’s Pool can be highly polluted and can cause medical complications.”
McCarthy also stresses that people should not park on the roads leading up to Devil’s Pool. This makes it much more difficult for emergency vehicles to get in and out of the park in the event someone needs medical assistance or there is another sort of emergency.
Trash is another major issue for those working to keep Wissahickon Valley Park beautiful and healthy. Ordinarily the park encourages a “carry in, carry out” policy with trash, but recently there has been a “trash crisis” at Devil’s Pool that has even spread to the surrounding areas. The park has been forced to place trash receptacles in this area, which are emptied regularly by a seasonal team of workers who spend about 50 percent of their time dealing with Devil’s Pool. “Were putting a huge amount of effort into the maintenance of the site,” McCarthy said, “but obviously what we really need is to connect with the users so they are the main participants in maintaining the site.”
To reiterate, Friends of the Wissahickon encourages people to visit the park and to enjoy themselves, but they should do so in a way that is safe for themselves and those around them. Swimming in Devil’s Pool is illegal, although people do it every day, and it is a highly risky and dangerous decision. There are countless public pools in Philadelphia that people can visit instead. A full list of Philly pools can be found at philaparkandrec.tumblr.com.