Hurricane Irene did not cause as much damage to the Wissahickon Park as feared. Irene dumped six-inches of water into the creek pushing it well over flood stage but the damage appears to be limited.
That’s the view of Maura McCarthy, executive director of the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), the stewardship group that’s been devoting its time, money and efforts to improving the health of the valley. “We actually got hit really lightly, relatively speaking,” said McCathy in a mid-week interview.
When the creek flooded it submerged sections of Forbidden Drive, it took out one composting toilet and damaged another, it poured water into the Valley Green Inn’s basement, and the waters tore up the entrance to the Orange Trail on the south side where Bell’s Mill Road crosses the creek.
Most of the worst damage to the Drive was on its upper stretches, from the Mt. Airy Avenue entrance to the park north to Northwestern Avenue. Large sections were torn up, such as the one at Rex Avenue where about 100 yards of the pathway’s surface were chewed up.
The Drive is still passable to foot traffic but the FOW urges caution if you’re planning on taking a stroll – many parts are torn-up and uneven. Efforts are underway to repair the damage. On Wednesday, the Department of Parks and Recreation were busy re-grading and removing debris from Forbidden Drive.
Still there are some damaged areas that could take much longer to restore. One FOW volunteer discovered one area of Forbidden drive that, “Needs total rebuilding with deep deposits in some places, scouring in others. There are manholes exposed and some covers missing. Also exposed wires. Guard rail from Wises Mill Rd to Valley Green was damaged during the storm.”
Other areas of heavy damage include the Andorra Tree House, where the driveway has been closed due to a washout, and the area along the creek just south of Bell’s Mill Road.
Bridge became dam
The problem at Bell’s Mill Road was caused by the bridge over the creek, said the FOW’s McCarthy. The parking lot on the upstream side suffered no damage, she said, but the water piled up at the bridge caused major damage where it overflowed onto the other side of the road, tossing rocks and trees around, half-burying a park bench in rubble, and ripping up the entrance to the park’s Orange Trail. “That will take three or four months to repair,” she estimated.
Also taking a beating were the solar and water-powered composting toilets at Rex and Mt. Airy Avenues. The Rex Avenue toilet will have to be completely overhauled, said McCarthy, while the one at Mt. Airy is still useable “but probably pretty smelly.”
FOW’s Saturday Walk is still on
The lower section of the drive escaped more or less intact, so this Saturday’s “Walk in the Wissahickon” scheduled for 3 p.m. with an FOW guide should proceed as currently scheduled, said McCarthy. That hike will cover the relatively unscathed portion of the Drive from Lincoln Drive to the Walnut Lane Bridge.
One bright spot: relatively few trees came down. McCarthy said that perhaps the low-lying nature of the valley protected the forest from the wind, but said that many of the trees most vulnerable to windfall had already come down in last year’s severe winter storms.
Trail improvement work pays off
The FOW’s Strategic Trails Initiative (STI), a multi-year effort to restore and improve the park’s trails and pathways, played a part in reducing Irene-related damage. By the early 2000’s, after decades of over-use, many of the hiking trails in the valley had become little more than runoff paths for water. The major emphasis of the STI is to restore the condition of salvageable trails and filling in and re-routing others. Its success so far can be seen at the end of the former trail at the parking lot on Kitchen’s Lane. By the end of its lifetime the trail that formerly ran from Westview Street to Kitchen’s Lane, said McCarthy, “It had become a gulley. It used to be seven or eight feet deep and 15-20 feet at its widest. We completely filled it in.” It was filled with earth and wood chips, and logs were placed across it to slow runoff. And, said McCathy, “It held up well in the storm.” Of the park’s estimated 50 miles of trails, about 20 miles worth have been rebuilt so far, she said. “Out of all those miles of trail you saw maybe 70 feet of damage.”
Volunteer to help
The FOW hosts regular maintenance workdays in the valley, with the next scheduled for Thursday evening, September 8 at Devil’s Pool. “A lot of our work is focused on clean-up, graffiti removal and there’s lots of reclamation work moving logs and so on, ” said McCarthy. The FOW is always looking for volunteers; for more information or to sign up call them at 215-247-0417 or visit fow.org.