Friends of the Wissahickon will be looking to improve trouble spots along Forbidden Drive and the rest of the park’s trail system.

by Sue Ann Rybak

Peg Shaw, director of land management for the Friends of the Wissahickon, told a packed auditorium at the Allens Art Center, 601 W. Allens Lane in Mt. Airy on Jan. 24 that the nonprofit is entering the final stage of the Sustainable Trail Initiative (STI), by completing five major trail projects over the next three years.

FOW launched the STI in partnership with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation in 2006 with the goal of improving 50 plus miles of natural surface trails in the Wissahickon Valley Park through rehabilitation and reroutes designed to quickly shed stormwater off the trail tread, thereby decreasing trail erosion and related sedimentation of the Wissahickon Creek and its tributaries. She also discussed three other public projects: Forbidden Drive Collapse, Habitat Management Plan and the Andorra Storm Water Project.

The goal of STI is to make the 50 miles of recreational trails in the Wissahickon an ecologically, fiscally and socially sustainable system for all users, of whom more than 1.2 million visit the 1,800-acre park each year.

Chris Bernhardt, a professional trail builder and one of the members of the original STI consulting team, shared his perspectives on the successes and challenges of STI. He said the multifaceted initiative joins together a programmatic focus on habitat restoration, water quality, user experience and safety.

Bernhardt gave a presentation outlining the five priority projects –The Monster, The Orange Trail Rex-VGI, Lower Cresheim, Jeanette St. N-S, and East Falls – to be completed over the next three years.

He explained that the Monster Project is the northern-most project on the Yellow Trail heading south from West Bells Mills Road.

“The trail is steep, loose, and rocky, giving it many nicknames such as The Monster, Heart-Attack Hill, and Suicide Hill,” he said. “While some trail users enjoy the physical and technical challenge of this segment, it is a barrier to use for the majority of visitors.”

After his presentation, attendees at the meeting had an opportunity to review the projects more closely on large presentation boards in the room and add their comments or questions using sticky notes.

STI is funded by the William Penn Foundation, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Financing Authority – Department of Community and Economic Development, and multiple private donors.

In 2017, As part of its STI, FOW built a 3,000 linear-foot trail for the Mt. Airy Avenue Connector Re-Route project. Shaw said the project cost roughly $8,500, and the nonprofit hired trail specialist Valerie Naylor. She added that in 2018, FOW will be closing the old 1,200 linear-foot Mt. Airy Avenue Connector Trail by restoring the topography by bringing in soil, then restoring the native vegetation with herbaceous seeding and woody planting.

Besides the Mt. Airy Avenue Connector project, FOW also completed the Yellow Trail Re-Route which includes a stream crossing.

“Park users on the Yellow Trail no longer have to leave the park and travel along Summit Avenue,” she said.

She added that FOW celebrated the opening of the trail last November, thanks to the help of over 150 volunteers, a dozen volunteer crew leaders and the professional skills of trail builder Valerie Naylor.

Shaw also discussed FOW’s $1 million restoration project on Forbidden Drive. She said work will be completed at three sites along Forbidden Drive: near Valley Green Inn, Mt. Airy Avenue and Kitchens Lane. She said the purpose of the project is to address stream bank collapses along the drive caused by stormwater erosion.

Each site will have design components that are tailor made according to each site. She added that Riverlogic Solutions/AKRF will design and construct the project to address drainage and maintenance problems by using bank toe stabilization/armoring, planted soil lifts and slope stabilization vegetation. Construction is scheduled to begin in the Fall of 2018.

In addition to the Forbidden Drive Project, FOW is working with Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation on a project to address storm water management in the Andorra Natural Area. The main components of the Andorra Storm Water and Sediment Reduction Plan, which will be divided into three work areas, include increasing the capture and infiltration of storm water from Northwestern Avenue above the upper parking lot, enlarging the existing basin and adding a forebay (a water catchment area that intercepts storm water flows and allows sediments and debris to drop out before entering the basin). A series of regenerative hillside step pools will also be installed, with a rain garden and vegetated swale near the Wissahickon Environmental Center (Treehouse) day-use area. A team led by the design firm A.D. Marble is set to begin construction for phase 1 of the plan in March 2018.

Shaw also discussed FOW’s recent Habitat Restoration Work along the new Yellow Summit Avenue trail route. She said approximately a half-acre of non-native wisteria vine was treated and cleared over the past two years by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, creating a relatively open south-facing slope with a partial tree canopy of tulip poplar and red maple, with a scattering of oak, hickory, and American holly. On Love Your Park Day last November, FOW staff and 50 community volunteers planted 225 trees, 187 shrubs, and 250 herbaceous plugs of species native to the Wissahickon Valley Park.

In 2018, FOW will be monitoring the planting site, installing deer fencing with the aim of expanding the native planting site in the fall.

Maura McCarthy, executive director of the FOW, said the improvement projects “encompass Friends of the Wissahickon’s overall mission as stewards of the park,” and will “guide their work over the next three years as well as inform future needs.”

“Wissahickon Valley Park belongs to everyone, so we will continue to keep the community apprised of our progress on their behalf,” she said.