Why are we trashing the Wissahickon?

Posted 8/6/20

This week’s front-page story by Kate Dolan will likely not come as a surprise to most readers. As is the Local’s nearly annual tradition, we’re again reporting on young people diving and …

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Why are we trashing the Wissahickon?

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This week’s front-page story by Kate Dolan will likely not come as a surprise to most readers. As is the Local’s nearly annual tradition, we’re again reporting on young people diving and swimming at Devil’s Pool and in the Wissahickon Creek. Every year we report on how the activity is both illegal and dangerous and those using the creek are leaving trash behind.

This year the crowds are understandably getting even larger. COVID-19 restrictions have not only closed local pools and summer camps but have kept people holed up for an excessively long time. It’s easy to understand why large groups are gathering outdoors along a creek in a record-hot summer.

The Parks and Recreation Department and the Friends of the Wissahickon have tried to combat the behavior for a long time with little luck. It appears no number of signs is enough to clue people in to the twin dangers of water pollution in the Wissahickon or of the risk to life and limb from diving or jumping into Devil’s Pool from the ledge above.

While the immediate risks to physical harm are the most urgent public health issue in all of this increased activity in the park, I find the litter problem to be the most vexing. Pictures of the park (we’ll use some in the online version of Kate’s story) establish an incredible lack of concern for the park, the other people who use it and the animals that live in it.

It’s one thing to risk your own health on your own time, but dumping your trash indiscriminately is an act of sociopathy.

Some park users when interviewed have noted a lack of trash cans. But the Friends of the Wissahickon and the city have both justifiably been against adding trash cans, particularly to natural places like Devil’s Pool where people are not supposed to be congregating to begin with. And the more trash cans added, the more staff and time is required to empty those cans.

Combatting litter in the park is a tough one. The time-honored National Parks tradition of leaving with everything you’ve come with is not an easy one to translate for people who don’t appear to have that tradition. And, as most studies of littering have concluded, the more trash people see on the ground, the more likely they are to not feel bad of adding more themselves. It’s a vicious cycle.

I wish there was a good solution. But there are people in both the Friends of the Wissahickon and in Parks and Recreation who have spent more time thinking about the issue than I have and still haven’t found the best method. I feel like massive fines are the way to go, but that, too, would require a nearly round-the-clock presence of park rangers to be effective.

In the meantime, in the off chance you reading this use the park and have littered in the past, please don’t do it again. Let the rest of us enjoy a park that may be crowded but is also clean.

Pete Mazzaccaro

opinion

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