One of the things that struck me right away about the city was the strong way people in this city identified by neighborhood. People were not from Philly. They were from Roxborough, Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. Neighborhood was first and foremost.
One could cynically describe those allegiances as parochial, a term that suggests a narrowness of viewpoint. But it wasn’t only that. It was a strong affinity and affection for community as much as anything that made Philadelphia a city of neighborhoods.
In Northwest Philadelphia, though, I have found there is one thing that brings together all of the neighborhoods in the area, and that’s the Wissahickon Park. On both sides of the river, every neighborhood – Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, Germantown, East Falls, Roxborough and Manayunk – shares a real affection for our portion of Fairmount Park, the largest, landscaped urban park in the world.
No matter what neighborhood in the Northwest you call home, the Wissahickon is part of your neighborhood. It’s a place everyone here has in common. It’s our community.
The Wissahickon’s 1,800 acres accounts for one fifth of the city’s 9,200-acre system, but it is distinct for its geography, trails and wildlife. As I was told by Friends of the Wissahickon Executive Director Maura McCarthy, the Wissahickon attracts roughly 450,000 people a year who visit it 1.2 million times. It’s easy to understand why. On Forbidden Drive, the rush of joggers and cyclists can remind you that the Wissahickon passes through a portion of the city with more than 325,000 residents. On one of the side trails, though, you could be forgiven if you suddenly get the sense you’re in a wooded, reclusive section of Vermont.
Another part of what makes the Wissahickon great is the care it receives from the Friends of the Wissahickon. The Chestnut Hill-based organization raises money and organizes volunteers for every aspect of park maintenance. From trails and tree planting to restoring historic structures throughout the Wissahickon, a big part of what makes the park worth visiting is preserved by the work of the Friends.
In the next month, the organization will roll out its biggest annual fundraising event – the All Trails Challenge. As discussed in the front-page story this week, it is the most important membership driver and fundraiser for the organization.
If you use the park regularly or just a few times a year, or if you’re used to a small part of the park but would like to explore more, you should consider signing up for the All Trails Challenge, as McCarthy and Development Manager Lorraine Awuku told me, there’s more to the challenge than raising money. It’s a great way for everyone to deepen their appreciation for Northwest Philadelphia’s most defining feature.