The 1,800-acre Wissahickon Valley Park is a strip of lush woodlands stretching seven miles from Chestnut Hill to Manayunk. That’s a lot of ground for park rangers to cover, but luckily they aren’t alone.
Since 2008, a group of Trail Ambassadors has supplemented the presence of park rangers by leading group tours and assisting trail users through the park. For the next eight weeks, a new class of ambassadors will be trekking through the woods for intensive training.
Friends of the Wissahickon outreach manager Sarah Marley said the group’s ability to communicate what they see on their patrols with park rangers and emergency authorities is extremely valuable.
“I’ve tromped all over this place,” Trail Ambassador Don Simon said. “Since becoming a Trail Ambassador I’ve tried to make a point of getting to know as many nooks and crannies of the park as I can.”
During their eight-week training program, new ambassadors will be trained in the ecology and history of the park, as well as basic first aid. Once their classes are complete, they patrol the park in shifts. The course runs twice per year with about 10 volunteers in each cycle, but Marley said they would be happy to expand that figure.
The program currently has 59 active ambassadors and Marley’s goal is to eventually have 150 ambassadors. Ideally, she would like to see nine volunteers working in three-person teams in different areas of the park every single day.
For the ambassadors, patrolling the park is a labor of love.
“Since I retired about two-and-a-half years ago, I was looking for something that would get me out of the house and keep me from going nuts and the park was just like savior,” Trail Ambassador Gerry Schweiger said. “I got to a point where the park really had done a lot for me and I wanted to see if there was an organization where I could help give back.”
Joseph Van Dusen is a student at Temple University. He produced this piece in collaboration with the Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab and NewsWorks/WHYY.