The 1800-acre Wissahickon Valley Park is preserved and improved by The Friends of the Wissahickon, an official park partner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. Since 1924, the FOW’s passionate community of members and volunteers has supported the park’s untamed beauty. Staff and volunteers collaborate with knowledgeable contractors and environmental scientists to prevent erosion, control stormwater discharge into the watershed, and address the effects of climate change on the natural ecosystem. Contributions from volunteers and membership fees help us continue to preserve this unique urban sanctuary.
History and Mission
A 3,000-member non-profit group called Friends of the Wissahickon was established in 1924 to “promote public interest in the Wissahickon Valley and preserve its natural beauty and wildness.”
1924—After a winter storm killed more than 200 trees, a group of concerned residents banded together to restore Wissahickon Valley Park and founded Friends of the Wissahickon.
1930 –500 people joined FOW, up from 50, and they collected $9,000 to plant 14,000 trees and bushes. The Wissahickon received $850,000 from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression to construct picnic shelters, watchtowers, restrooms, and pathways.
1934-Valley Green Inn’s restoration was funded by donations from FOW, which also took over management of the inn.
1964-It was decided to register Wissahickon Valley Park as a Natural History Landmark (now known as National Natural Landmarks).
FOW initially published the 1970s-The Wissahickon Valley Map, and the park’s trail network was designated a National Recreation Trail.
1990s-FOW launched its website, lecture series, and some of its enduring outreach initiatives, including its quarterly newsletter. The FOW recruited its first paid executive director and moved into the Chestnut Hill Historical Society’s offices, where it jointly began the Conservation and Facade Easement Program with them.
2002-A $280,000 “capacity building” grant from the William Penn Foundation allowed FOW to recruit full-time professionals, boost income, and start significant initiatives. Together with the Friends of Pennypack Park, FOW began a fundraising campaign called Save Their Forests.
2004 -An environmental restoration plan for Valley Green has been completed.
2005- Protect Watershed initiative and the Sustainable Trails Initiative started by FOW.
2008-The first group of Trail Ambassadors started their jobs in the park.
2009-Wissahickon Stormwater Mitigation and Sediment Reduction Projects were started by FOW (completed in 2011).
Conservation and Restoration
FOW preserves Wissahickon Valley Park’s untamed beauty and wildness. We carry out tasks with the help of our volunteers that promote the balanced regeneration of local plant and animal species, lessen stormwater erosion, and maintain the erected paths, bridges, and other park buildings.
- The Sustainable Trails Initiative is a multi-phased commitment by Friends of the Wissahickon to assist in creating a socially and ecologically sustainable network of 50 miles of natural surface National Recreation Trails in Wissahickon Valley Park that benefits all park visitors.
- The Wissahickon Creek and its tributaries’ health is negatively impacted by floods and excessive stormwater runoff, which the Protect Their Watershed program is working to understand better and address.
- To maintain the character and heritage of the park, the FOW Structures Crew has been engaged in several building projects across Wissahickon since 1996.
Plan your Visit
The Wissahickon Valley Park
The park’s many recreational activities are enjoyed by over 1.1 million visitors each year. Hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders have access to more than 50 miles of challenging routes that allow them to explore the park’s deep woods, wide-open meadows, and shady rivers. Every spring, trout are added to Wissahickon Creek, drawing anglers to its banks. Meanwhile, birdwatchers go to the rehabilitated Andorra and Houston meadows to see the arrival of many bird species.
When people go hiking in the Wissahickon, they will be walking through a forest that is so dense that it will be difficult for them to believe that they are still inside the city boundaries of Philadelphia.
Along the length of Wissahickon Creek, Forbidden Drive extends for five kilometers. It is a significant route that is also level, made of gravel, and suitable for walkers of all ages and abilities. The highest paths in the park follow the undulating topography, which is often steep and rocky in places.
Forbidden Drive is a broad, flat gravel track that runs alongside the creek for a distance of five miles; path runners seeking a challenge frequently head towards the higher routes, which include steeper gradients and more rocky trail surfaces. Although runners can be seen on the top trails of Wissahickon Valley Park, Forbidden Drive is the most run-down. Sharing the road with other motorists, including horses and bicycles, is necessary while running on Forbidden Drive and the Yellow, White, and Orange Trails.
Forbidden Drive is popular with cyclists since it is a level gravel route with gentle inclines suited for usage by most bicycles. In addition, cyclists are welcome to use the Wissahickon Bike Trail, the Yellow Trail, the White Trail, and almost all of the access paths that go into the park from the surrounding area. Be aware that you will share the trails with walkers and equestrians; we ask that you behave respectfully and yield as appropriate.
The Wissahickon Creek is ideal for spin and flies fishing because it is stocked with spring trout. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission oversees the management of the stream as an Approved Trout Water. Additionally, the creek has been recognized as a Commonwealth inland water so the fishing season may be extended here. The stream is home to various warm-water fish species, including sunfish, bass, and others.
Wissahickon Valley Park serves as both a haven and a productive nesting place for various bird species. How many? I’m glad you asked. Over a year, more than 200 species of birds make their way to the park, which Pennsylvania Audubon has designated as an Important Bird Area due to its varied habitat consisting of a waterway, woodland, and meadow. Additionally, the park is surrounded by private properties that have been lavishly landscaped.
Everyone is welcome to have a picnic in the Wissahickon, and they highly recommend doing so! Hundreds of picnic sites and pavilions spread over the park along Forbidden Drive and Wissahickon Creek.
For more detail, visit their website or call them at 215-247-0417.