PHILADELPHIA — There’s nothing like spring in the Wissahickon, so while Philadelphia is staying home, Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) is bringing the outside in with the Virtual Valley. Filled with Wissahickon-focused videos, maps, trivia games, and interactive family activities, the online resource is a place for FOW’s community to bond in these uncertain times.

The move comes at a time when public officials are urging citizens to stay at home to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, and fears that some members of the public are ignoring those calls, in particular when it comes to use of trails and parks. 

On Monday FOW officials stressed safety when it comes to their crowded facilities.

“Ever since the social distancing order has gone into place, it’s been incredibly crowded in the park … even on the rainy days,” said Ruffian Tittmann, executive director of Friends of the Wissahickon. She again urged visitors to practice "social distancing" - 6 feet between themselves and others, as well as the need to keep dogs on leaches. She even suggested the public consider cutting back on trips to the park.

That's where the virtual tour comes in.

Visitors can share their Wissahickon stories, photos, and artwork; consult the “Creekside Classroom” for homeschooling material; and enjoy some much-needed moments of Zen in the “Peace in the Valley” section. Looking ahead, FOW intends to move more educational programming and events online with a series of lectures on the park’s rich history, geology, flora, and fauna, starring dedicated Trail Ambassadors and other volunteer experts.

FOW’s expansion into online content is aimed toward engaging new audiences.

“We want to keep our nature-loving community engaged with the Wissahickon while staying inside,” said Tittmann. “But we’ve also had a noticeable increase in new visitors to the park who may not know about our conservation mission or the uniqueness of the Wissahickon Valley – and this is our chance to bring them onboard.”

While Wissahickon Valley Park remains open and a resource to Philadelphians, FOW asks that individuals continue to follow the social distancing guidelines of the City of Philadelphia’s Stay At Home Order. Though working remotely, FOW staff are continuing to collect reports from the public on conditions in the park and share this information with partners throughout the city. And throughout this public health crisis, FOW’s mission to conserve the Wissahickon, which serves as an important wildlife habitat, a source of drinking water for more than a third of Philadelphians, and an urban oasis on which many depend, is ongoing.

“Now more than ever, FOW is grateful for the outpouring of community support we’ve seen, and on which we rely, to help us ensure the survival of our beloved Wissahickon,” said Tittmann.

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