Philadelphia’s history can been found hiking in the Wissahickon

For anyone interested in enjoying the wonders of a stroll through nature and a trip back into Philadelphia’s history, Sarah West and the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) are more than willing to oblige. This Saturday May 19 at 3 p.m., West will be leading a light-paced hike along the Forbidden Drive—a portion of the Wissahickon Valley. The hike will begin at the small parking lot where Forbidden Drive meets Lincoln Drive, a short distance downstream from RittenhouseTown.

Hikers will see plenty of landmarks, including the ruins of the Lotus Inn and the Rittenhouse Mill, two striking foundations in Philadelphia’s history, along with the remnants of a mysterious Roman sarcophagus sculpture that has stood the tests of time. West, a retired teacher of the sciences at Germantown Friends School and a self-proclaimed “student of the Wissahickon,” will also share incredible stories of the role Wissahickon mills played in the Revolutionary War as well as the surprisingly contentious history of Forbidden Drive and the Wissahickon Turnpike Road Company.

As a Trail Ambassador West aims to be a “friendly, well-informed presence” in the park, sharing knowledge with visitors and working in conjunction with the park rangers who enforce law (although she has been known to hand out a few dog leashes herself).

The Trail Ambassadors program started three years ago as one branch of volunteers for the Friends of the Wissahickon. Trail Ambassadors can be found behind a table at Valley Green Inn on select Sundays and leading hikes on weekends.

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West enjoys leading the lower Forbidden Drive tour as it was her idea to provide a more calm and leisurely experience than some of the more difficult tours in terrain and pace that are offered by other ambassadors.

A former teacher of biology, earth sciences and physics, West has collected many of the history in her stories from historical societies and different members of the Wissahickon community. Speaking of her passion for learning, West said, “To me, the Wissahickon explains a lot of interesting parts of our history that otherwise would go unnoticed.”

Along with the tour of Forbidden Drive, West leads a tour focusing on the geology of the Wissahickon. Unbeknownst to many, the Wissahickon creek runs backwards in comparison to most rivers and streams; instead of flowing from a mountainous region to wide expanses of land, the Wissahickon starts in gently rolling land and flows into a mountainous gorge. Once considered a part of the Appalachian Formation, geologists have discovered that the mountains of the Wissahickon pre-date the formation of the Appalachian, providing many, including West, a topic of fascination.

The Friends of the Wissahickon invite all to join in and enjoy the unique and deeply interesting offers of West and the creek she knows and loves.

To register for the hike contact Sarah Marley at or 215-247-0417, Ext 109.

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