Philly Councilmember Curtis Jones supports call to fill Devil’s Pool with rocks

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Swimmers cool off in the Devil’s Pool in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Swimmers cool off in the Devil’s Pool in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Councilmember Curtis Jones said he would support filling Devil’s Pool with rocks as a solution to a persistent and worsening litter problem at the popular yet illegal Wissahickon Valley Park swimming hole.

“Every kid cannot get to Disney World,” said Jones, whose district includes the park. “But they should be able to go to a clean, safe park where they can responsibly enjoy nature.”

Some nearby residents have, for years, advocated for filling in the 15-foot basin where the Cresheim Creek meets the Wissahickon Creek as a means to end its life as a swimming hole. But the idea has never gotten widespread traction and city officials have no public plans to pursue the option — a nuclear one for many park lovers who argue that it is among the city’s “finest natural landmarks,” as Hidden City writer Bradley Maule put it in 2015.

“Parks & Recreation isn’t currently considering filling Devil’s Pool with rocks, said Alain Joinville, a spokesperson for the department.

But for Jones and some of his constituents, the pandemic has brought new urgency to park safety issues.

The Councilperson said he was supportive of filling in the natural pool at a rally last weekend attended by close to 100 people in protest of what they say is an overwhelming amount of litter polluting the Northwest Philadelphia attraction.

“I want to assure everybody that we are not the old people saying, ‘Get off our lawn!’” Jones said. “We are people who care deeply about this resource that we need to preserve now more than ever in a pandemic, in social upheaval, and during a depression.”

The pandemic has brought a record number of visitors to the sprawling forest park and during a hot summer with no public city pools operating, Devil’s Pool has become even alluring to adventurers.

With more people comes more swimming in unsafe and prohibited areas, more illegally parked cars blocking access for emergency vehicles and mounds of litter, the protestors said.

“Our parks are in danger! We need more rangers!” was the rallying cry as they marched down Forbidden Drive. Protesters said Devil’s Pool— which is strictly off-limits — has drawn thousands of people this summer who swim in the water and leave trash behind.

Kim Benedetto, who helped organize the rally through a Facebook group, says people are leaving behind dirty diapers, articles of clothing, and even full trays of food.

But she says her primary concern is the shards of glass on the bottom of the creek caused by people throwing bottles onto the rocks.

“You’re running your dogs back here, kids are in the water, their kids are in the water,” she said. “And at the same time, they’re literally throwing bottles and breaking them into the water. It’s a problem.”

Nancy Fetsurka who lives walking distance from the park is one of the many park cleanup volunteers who say it’s an uphill battle trying to keep up with the large influx of trash.

“I’ve come back and cleaned up restaurant-sized tins of food, alcohol bottles, grills, coolers, it was just overwhelming. And the next day, all the trash was back. It was like we were never there,” she said. “Come back and enjoy the park and love the park, but follow the rules. Keep it clean.”

For the Parks & Rec Department, litter and safety issues are also top of mind. Police block Wises Mill Road on weekends as a way to curb the large number of visitors to the Devil’s Pool area.

But it is a balancing act. City officials do not want to discourage people from visiting parks — a “vital lifeline” to the community that offers a safe, healthy way to get outdoors, Joinville said in a statement.

Park rangers and recently deployed social distance ambassadors are also working to remind people of park rules.

“[They] have been dispatched to the Wissahickon and other watershed parks to remind residents to carry out their trash, give out free masks, and share information about the dangers of swimming in Philadelphia’s rivers, streams and waterways,” officials said in a statement.

While the Parks Department’s budget shrank in the city’s most recent, post-pandemic budgeting process, the department did not cut full-time staff, including park rangers, a spokesperson said.

But for nearby residents, the news of no cuts is hardly good news.

“We have [only a small number of park rangers] for the whole Wissahickon Valley, which is over 2,000 acres of land,” said Nancy Crescenzo. “So that is certainly not enough to do the job necessary.”

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