Wissahickon Creek clean-up draws more than 300 volunteers

Old tires. Glass bottles. Lawn furniture. Political signs. You name it.

These items were all up for grabs on Saturday as a group of more than 300 volunteers helped to collect trash along the 64-square-mile Wissahickon Creek. Some people ventured into the creek in wetsuits while others paddled in canoes to collect garbage along the creek, which runs from Montgomery County through Northwest Philadelphia. 

With small staffs, the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association (WVWA) and the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) have joined forces to organize the creek clean-up among other initiatives throughout the year.

“We’re like cousins,” said Carol DeLancey, director of special events for the WVWA. “We want to create an environmental balance.”

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The WVWA, located in Ambler, is a non-profit land trust that works to protect the local environment in and around the creek’s watershed.

The FOW is a Philadelphia-based non-profit that works in partnership with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. Its efforts include monitoring watershed management issues and restoring trails throughout the Wissahickon Valley Park.

“We clean miles of creek beds and trails,” said DeLancey. “Our mission is to protect the health and beauty of the Wissahickon.”

Increasing awareness in clean-up efforts 

“It all happens in one morning,” said Mary Claghorn, chair of the WVWA. “Folks come back to volunteer year after year.”

Claghorn says that she has seen the amount of trash diminish in the last few years. She believes their efforts have created a strong network of volunteers who enable “awareness” about the need to keep the Wissahickon clean.

Maura McCarthy, executive director of the FOW, says all of their work is volunteer-driven. She is proud of the FOW volunteer programs that include watershed education, trail maintenance and park user safety.

Within the Trail Ambassador program, volunteers learn how to patrol the park, educate park users and are even CPR certified.

“We’re doing so many things to try and get the community to be more aware and really become advocates for the Wissahickon,” said McCarthy.

Ruffian Tittmann, director of development and operations for the FOW, says Philadelphians don’t realize that the Wissahickon is a part of their drinking water.

“We should all be concerned – this water empties out into the Schuylkill River,” said Tittmann, “We’re trying to raise awareness.”

Volunteers speak for the creek

Alice Rogerson volunteered with her friends from Normandy Farms Estates, a retirement community located in Blue Bell.

“We’re here today because we’re concerned,” said Rogerson. “In less than a mile of the trail we filled two bags of trash; it’s just unbelievable. There were fast food containers, cigarette butts, a hairbrush, even a heel to a shoe.”

Volunteer John Smiley is a member of the Lansdale Lions Club, which sponsors a local boy scout troop to clean up the creek.

“We’ve been doing this clean up for several years.” said Smiley. “It’s important to teach the kids about the environment.

Mike O’Connor says he volunteers because he lives and works in the community. He was there in-part as a representative from the McNeil Consumer Products Company, located in Fort Washington, which donates to the clean-up.

“It’s good to give back,” said O’Connor. “Part of the problem is backyard flooding that washes trash into the creek, but every year, I see less and less; it’s getting cleaner each year.”

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