Q: Who owns the Wissahickon and is in charge of the park?
A: The Wissahickon, including the three public stables and Valley Green Inn, is owned by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR), a department of the City of Philadelphia. PPR is directly responsible for all conservation, maintenance, and preservation efforts except those formally delegated to others (such as the stables and the lease at Valley Green Inn). But FOW is in partnership with PPR and is a long-standing steward of the park.
Q: Does FOW receive city funding?
A: No. FOW receives no cash or direct funding from the city or PPR.
Q: How many miles of trails are there in the Wissahickon?
A: The Wissahickon's 1,800 acres contain an astonishing 57 miles of trails--the equivalent of eight separate trails running the entire length of the park.
Q: Who needs a permit to use the trails?
Q: Where can I get a permit?
A: Fairmount Park issues permits. You can print a form off its website or purchase one online.
Q: What are the painted markings on the trees along the trails?
A: The park currently uses the Appalachian Trail Blaze System. FOW is working with PPR to establish a new signage and wayfinding system for the Wissahickon.
Q: Are motor vehicles permitted on the Wissahickon trails?
A: No. With the exception of vehicles operated by Fairmount Park, police, fire, ambulance and specially-permitted vehicles, no motor vehicles are allowed on the trails. Specially-permitted vehicles include vehicles used by the FOW to get supplies and other important equipment to work sites.
Q: What about access for disabled people who wish to enjoy the scenery of the Wissahickon?
A: There is parking for the disabled at Valley Green and in one or two other parking areas in the Wissahickon. The Inn also allows people to drop off disabled passengers in front of the ramps leading to the Inn. However, except for Forbidden Drive, the Wissahickon trails are not really wheelchair-accessible. We recommend either Forbidden Drive or Kelly Drive along the Schuylkill River for the disabled.
Q: What does FOW do?
A: FOW works in partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation to restore historical structures throughout the park, eliminate invasive plant species, monitor watershed management issues, and restore trails throughout the park system with its Sustainable Trails Initiative.
Q: Where does the Wissahickon Creek begin?
A: Ironically, the Wissahickon Creek starts in a spring in the parking lot of the Montgomery Mall. It is channeled through the parking lot and fed by a variety of smaller tributaries throughout its 64-square mile watershed until it reaches the last seven miles of its length in Philadelphia.
Q: Is it okay to swim in the Creek?
A: Swimming in any of Philadelphia’s rivers and streams is illegal and dangerous. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health states that swimming and wading is not permitted due to risks of drowning, injury from submerged objects, strong currents, and other hazards. In the past, swimmers at Devil’s Pool have drowned or have been seriously injured.
Q: What pollutes the Creek?
A: In late summer of a dry year, as much as 95 percent of the water in the creek is treated sewage from the seven treatment plants upstream in Montgomery County. (See Water Quality.) Every rainstorm washes a variety of animal wastes, lawn and garden chemicals, household cleaners, and things that drip from cars and trucks into the Creek. (See Stormwater Runoff.) Sometimes even industrial and commercial pollutants from Montgomery County and Philadelphia get into the Creek. Heavy rainstorms overload Philadelphia's aging sewer system and force cross connections between sanitary and storm sewers. It's little wonder that a 2002 study by The Conservation Fund listed the Wissahickon as one of the Schuylkill River's four most polluted tributaries.
Q: Do I need a license to fish in the Wissahickon?
A: Yes. Any person aged 16 or older needs to obtain a license from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Licenses are available at many sporting goods stores. You can purchase a license online or print out a form from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website and mail it in with the required fee.
Q: Can I boat, canoe, or kayak in Wissahickon Creek?
A: There is no regulation forbidding it, but FOW discourages it. The park has no lifeguards on duty and the creek has variable depths which can be dangerous.
Q: What kind of fish are in the Wissahickon?
A: The Fish and Boat Commission stocks the Creek with trout a few times a year. They keep the exact dates quiet. There are also large mouth and small mouth bass, sunfish, and some small catfish in the Creek as well as a variety of minnows and other panfish.
Q: Do I need a permit for a family picnic in the park?
A: It depends on how big a family you're talking about. If you're talking about five to ten people who only take up one or two picnic tables or blankets, the answer is no. If you're talking about 25 to 50 people, you need to get a special events permit from Fairmount Park.
Q: What other events do I need permits for?
A: If more than 25 people are involved and it doesn't involve Valley Green Inn, apply for a permit. The Inn has its own arrangements with the Park.
Q: Do I need a permit to get married in the park?
A: If the wedding is held at Valley Green Inn, nothing more than the usual marriage license is required. If the wedding is held at another site in the park, you have to make arrangements with the organization that controls that site, e.g., Historic Rittenhouse Town) and comply with whatever agreement they have with Fairmount Park.
Q: What if I want to serve alcohol at my event?
A: If you want to serve alcohol, Fairmount Park will require you to obtain a special events permit from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. The LCB will require you to notify all police agencies in the area. For example, when the FOW stages its Whispers Along the Wissahickon event at the Andorra Natural Area, we notify the 5th (Roxborough), 14th (Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy) and 92nd (Fairmount Park) police districts in Philadelphia as well as the Springfield and Whitemarsh Township police departments since the site is so close to the city line. Fairmount Park may also require additional security deposits and scrutinize your application more thoroughly.
Q: Can I grill/cook/barbeque in the park?
A: There are several areas throughout the park where it is okay to grill. You can identify these areas by the grills and picnic benches that are already there. However, grilling or starting campfires anywhere else in the park is extremely dangerous and is not permitted.
Q: How do I get my name on a bench in the Wissahickon?
A: Contact Fairmount Park or visit their website. Truthfully, there is probably an overabundance of named benches in the Wissahickon and their maintenance could be better. You might want to consider an alternative gift.
Q: What if I want another facility with my name on it?
A: Contact FOW's Development Director to discuss possible options.
Q: I want to volunteer to work in the Park. How do I do it?
A: Contact FOW's Volunteer Coordinator at 215-247-0417. FOW needs volunteers for the workdays it sponsors at different sites in the park. If you are interested in volunteering to help the park in other ways, contact FOW about joining one of our Committees.
Q: Why don't cell phones work in the Wissahickon?
A: The Wissahickon is a steep, wooded gorge. It can be difficult for signals to get through in many places and FOW would object to ugly cell towers going up at the tops of every slope. However, there are ways to properly mount transmitters on bridges and in existing buildings that would not harm the scenery and that we would probably not find objectionable. There is something to be said for having a place in a major city where you are not accessible 24/7 and where you do not have to put up with the conversations of others. At the same time, we would like to find a way to make the park safer and that may call for police and other emergency service antennas in the park. Still, those would require city funding from a city far too short on funds, so we don't consider them a threat.
Q: How do I make reservations at Valley Green Inn?
A: You can call them at 215-247-1730. For more information on the Inn's hours and menu, visit their website.
Q: Can I camp in the park?
A: No, camping is not allowed.
Q: How can I get a map of the park?
A: FOW publishes a detailed fold-out map of the valley that shows trails, landmarks, and other points of interest. To see a sample of the map and locations where it is available for purchase, visit the maps page.
Q: What plants/animals are in the park?
A: The Wissahickon Valley is home to an incredibly diverse population of native plants and wildlife. To see which species you might encounter in the Park, visit one of our online visual guides: Birds, Mammals, Native Plants, or Invasive Plants.
Q: Can I keep plants/animals that I find in the park?
A: No, Fairmount Park prohibits the removal of any plants or animals from the park system. Taking plants or animals out of the park can disrupt the delicate ecosystem of the park, undermine ongoing restoration projects, and expose you to hazards such as diseases, animal bites, and other dangers.