West Germantown resident Troy Morris has hiked the Wissahickon for almost 30 years and seen the number of visitors there grow.
He uses the Philadelphia forest as a way “to get out of the city.” Morris rides his bike from Lincoln Drive to Valley Green.
While riding his bike, Morris sees a lot of trash on the trails.
One way to solve that problem: public sanitation facilities.
“The restrooms would also bring more trash cans which would help keep the park clean,” said Morris.
Morris is in luck.
According to a master plan under development by The Friends of the Wissahickon, Philly’s Park and Recreation department, and NV5, a technical engineering and consulting company, more bathrooms are coming to the park’s 1,800 acres of sprawling green space.
The park currently has 11 total restrooms and only six toilets and one urinal that operate year-round. Not nearly enough for the 1.1 million people who visit the park annually — a number that grew significantly in 2020 as people flocked outdoors for socially distant recreation and fresh air. The bathroom crunch is more than an inconvenience. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a national nonprofit environmental organization, recently designated the park as a “hot spot” with the natural environment bearing the burden of too much human waste.
There aren’t “black and white numbers” for how many toilets a park like the Wissahicken should have, the architect noted at a recent public meeting.
“However, the best numbers we can find are from the Trust for Public Land, which suggests we should have 25 toilets throughout the park based upon the number of users,” said Rosa Mannion, the Principal Landscape Architect at NV5.
The architect also said the southern end of the park — near Valley Green Inn and Bells Mill at Forbidden Drive — have seen an increase in visitors that necessitate more restrooms.
Around 57% of visitors say the need for permanent restrooms in the park is very important, while 33% of visitors say it is somewhat essential, according to data presented by NV5.
Survey results also indicate that visitors request more trash receptacles throughout the park and near restrooms.
Although most visitors say that permanent restrooms are necessary, Mannion said there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the structure of the potential restroom facilities.
“Some facilities require sewer and water, some are hybrid, and some can be disconnected from public utilities.”
Individual restrooms will cost somewhere between $25,000 and $111,000 depending on materials and plumbing installation.
The costs can vary greatly depending on the specifics of the facility. For instance, a single foam-flush composting toilet will run about $30,000.
Another issue that could slow down plans is the question of maintenance.
For example, portable toilets need to be serviced daily — a major expense that the Friends of Wissahickon doesn’t yet know how to cover.
The next meeting about the plan is scheduled for the second week of February, 2022. The group expects to meet again before the completion of the master plan in the spring.
The planning and construction costs are supported by a $75,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and a matching donation from an anonymous donor.
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