By Rick Cawley
For the Review
Sometimes, enough really is enough. Local residents, who are fed up with watching the decay of the once pristine natural playground that they grew up with along the banks of the Wissahickon Creek, have planned a peaceful rally for this Sunday at 1:00 starting at Valley Green.
The Andorra Kids, who along with the Friends of the Wissahickon, have been fighting an uphill battle as the have been feverishly trying to maintain a clean environment amid the uptick in usage from mostly out-of-towners that has wreaked havoc on their community treasure.
Local residents would like to see the city hire more Park Rangers to help enforce the rules and regulations of the Fairmount Park that are by and large being ignored. The present work force is overwhelmed by the troves of families, some even dropped off by buses, descending into the Wissahickon valley, especially on weekends, to take advantage of the sublime flowing waters. Phila. Parks & Recreation rules prohibit using the Wissahickon as a virtual swimming pool, but those statutes have become increasingly more difficult to enforce.
The influx of picnickers proliferating the banks of the creek coincides with the daily accumulation of trash that has seen a dramatic increase in recent years. Many of the day-trippers are conscientious enough to clean up after themselves, but a substantial number have been leaving behind leftover food, plastic bags, cans, bottles, soiled diapers and a host of other disposables in their wake that are tarnishing the natural aura of the park that our community has long revered. The two hot spots have generally been at the falls near Wises Mill Road and Devil’s Pool.
The Andorra Kids are one of the groups that have taken over stewardship of the park and are the prime movers in organizing the rally. They feel passionately about people having access to this wonderful attraction, but want to see the regulations that are already in place being enforced. The hiring of additional Park Rangers would go a long way in that direction.
Event coordinators Sharon Schultz, Nancy Shearer-Crescenzo, and Kim Benedetto from the Andorra Kids group have spearheaded the rally to address concerns that they feel are long overdue. They believe that additional support from the Phila. Parks & Recreation and local police would be vital to turn this difficult situation around.
After a recent expose by news crews from Channel 6 and 3 as well as petitions to Rep. Pam DeLissio, Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., and the 5th District, some positive changes have begun to emerge. Over the weekend, the main access to the park along Wises Mill Rd. was blocked off by 5th District police to try to discourage the hordes of picnickers from entering in vehicles.
Unfortunately, it also denied locals who just wanted to feed the ducks or eat at Valley Green Inn their usual point of entry by car. Visitors were also seen parking illegally along Henry Ave. or in front of dismayed residents on upper Wises Mill and trekking to the creek from there.
In addition, Park Rangers were screening park users on the main entry point on the Chestnut Hill side from entering with swimwear or picnicking paraphernalia. As might be expected, visitors began using back trails to circumnavigate the checkpoint to reach their destinations.
Staff from the Friends of the Wissahickon as well as Andorra Kids members, Kim Benedetto and Nancy Shearer-Crescenzo have been a daily presence passing out trash bags and distributing flyers that spell out the park rules. Educating visitors to the parameters of park usage is a paramount step in creating social pressure to bring about a positive change in attitude towards cleanliness in a natural environment. Having sufficient Park Rangers to monitor behavior and reinforce the guidelines that are already in place is just as crucial to achieving a balance between usage and the caretaking of our gifted resource.
In planning their peaceful rally, the Andorra Kids have reached out to the FOW, the office of Councilman Jones, and other interested parties to come and support their efforts. They ensure the proper Covid-19 protocols will be in vogue as well as temperature monitoring as supporters come to the rally point near the falls.
Parking will be extremely limited since a permit allowing parking on Forbidden Drive was not granted. Attendees can boost their Fit-Bit output for the day by parking up top and hiking the Wise’s Mill passageway to reach the falls. Our friends in blue from the 5th District are expected to lend assistance in creating a safe journey to and from.
Following a brief introduction from organizers, the Andorra Kids will lead the ensemble along Forbidden Drive to the Devil’s Pool area with some socially distanced camaraderie along the way. A clean up project is planned following the rally.
According to Sharon Schultz, a Facebook page called “ Bring Back Our Park Rangers” has been created “ to share event information and for the public to share what they are seeing in the park.” She added that they have “over 200 members strong and growing.”