by Barbara Sherf
While rain has been on everyone’s mind of late, the wet weather and its impact on the Wissahickon Valley Park were among a host of topics explored at the Annual Public Projects Meeting of the 95-year-old Friends of the Wissahickon last week.
About 75 attendees gathered at the New Convent Church campus to learn more about plans for park maintenance, the status of major trail and stormwater management projects and planned trail and streambank restoration work. Executive Director Maura McCarthy delivered the presentation.
FOW staff furnished a paper that its director of land management, Peg Shaw, had written on the impact of climate change in the Wissahickon.
“The big story in the field this year is the increase in volume and frequency of rain events as a result of climate change,” Shaw wrote. “A report on climate change recently released by the United Nations revealed that climate scientists are surprised by the rate and magnitude of climate change underway. Impacts are being felt around the globe, and the Wissahickon Valley Park is no exception.”
Not only has heavy rain canceled several volunteer workdays, weather-related contractor delays are pushing the Forbidden Drive Trail and Streambank Stabilization projects scheduled for last fall to this summer.
“We figured we’d just hire another contractor to do the work, but all of the contractors who do this type of work are backed up due to the wet weather and flooding issues throughout the area,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said culverts installed in the 1930s are now collapsing, leaving the park without quick fixes to many of the flooding and drainage issues.
“We’re going to have to figure out a way to make old culverts and piping that have collapsed work for us again,” she said. “We have seen two trails collapse where drainage pipes had been compressed, causing huge sinkholes. We are working with Tom Witmer and the Parks and Rec folks to come up with a plan to save money by using volunteers to maintain what we have in place.”
Valley Green Inn trails and grounds
McCarthy outlined other parts of the park in need of attention, including the Orange Trail that runs behind Valley Green Inn and other parts of the grounds around the Inn, including its parking lot.
McCarthy said the Orange Trail had become “a disaster.”
“We thought about redoing the whole trail, but when we talked to the trail professionals, we were advised to keep close to where the original trail is historically,” she said. “It’s not that easy to move a trail and it’s expensive and not environmentally sound, so we will be investing in these old trails.”
The Sustainable Trails Initiative, started in 2006, will become a continuing core project. While more than $7 million has been spent, FOW will continue to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and other agencies, to look for additional funding.
Touching on the Valley Green Inn Landscape Master Plan, McCarthy noted a host of needs surrounding the historic structure and grounds.
“In partnership with the Inn, we are trying to mitigate issues regarding parking and pedestrian traffic,” she said. “This is a very tall order, as the area is in a floodplain with historic bridges, retaining walls and a frequently flooded roadway. We will also be developing a plan to allow visitors to walk safely from the upper parking lot to Forbidden Drive.”
A boardwalk that allowed pedestrians to walk to the park from the lot above collapsed several years ago due to erosion on the nearby slope.
After the presentation, attendees perked up during a Q&A session with Craig Johnson of Interpret Green, who talked about efforts to protect mating water snakes in the park.
Johnson and his partner Carol Adams, who live in the historic Glen Fern home near the Livezy Dam, worked with FOW to create and install signs to help visitors identify the snakes and to ask them to stay out of the water, where the northern water snakes mate.
The couple said visitors to the area sometimes incorrectly identify the 4-to-5-foot female snakes as venomous, and harass or harm them.
“The female is surrounded by multiple males in these mating balls or coils,” Johnson said. “It’s fascinating to watch from a distance, but we can’t have people texting each other to go down to the dam to have parties and get too close to them. We put the signs up this past spring so visitors can be respectful and know that this species is not poisonous and needs to be preserved.”