Part of Philadelphia’s 10,500 acres of parkland, the Wissahickon Valley Park is a strip of lush woodlands stretching seven miles from Chestnut Hill to Manayunk. That’s a lot of ground for the rangers to cover, but luckily they aren’t alone out there.
The Trail Ambassadors are a volunteer group started in 2008 by the Friends of the Wissahickon, a non-profit organization, with support from Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.
Leading group hikes and assisting patrons, Trail Ambassadors supplement the presence of park rangers throughout the 1,800-acre Wissahickon Park. Friends of the Wissahickon outreach manager Sarah Marley s
aid their 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 are 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. 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.”
For additional information about the program, visit https://www.fow.org/volunteering/trail-ambassadors.