Members and volunteers for the Friends of the Wissahickon lined both sides of Lincoln Drive, which stretches a little over four miles, to pick up trash on March 26, 2022.
After being cancelled multiple times—the Lincoln Drive clean-up was originally scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day—individuals started the day gathered at two locations, Historic Rittenhouse Town and the Philadelphia Canoe Club, for the event.
The event marked the first time the FOW were able to pick up trash alongside Lincoln Drive with the road shut down. Lincoln Drive is the only main road that runs right next to the creek within Wissahickon Valley Park, and is a major thoroughfare into Northwest Philadelphia.
“Basically, anywhere that there’s cars, there’s going to be a lot of litter,” said Shawn Green, director of field stewardship at the FOW. “Especially since it’s right by the creek, all that is going to be washing into the creek, which is habitat to species of wildlife, but it’s also a source of drinking water.”
Throughout the four-mile cleanup, volunteers pulled plastic bottles, smashed aluminum cans, and plastic bags from the creek bank along the west side of Lincoln Drive, using trash pickers and garbage bags provided by FOW.
Don Parker, 39, works for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and had been eager to get involved with FOW.
“I thought it was time to help pitch in too,” he said. “And I live around here anyways.”
Groups pitched in to grab larger items like tires, street signs, broken car bumpers, and a mattress from the hillside along the east side of Lincoln Drive.
“It was something I was eager to do because, one, it sounded fun,” Green said. “And, two, I know just from driving up and down [Lincoln Drive] that there’s a lot of trash to be picked up.”
Volunteers were treated to breathtaking views of the Wissahickon Creek and sounds of birds chirping while they walked along Lincoln Drive helping clear the area of any trash in sight.
Starting in 1924 as a small community group based out of Chestnut Hill, the FOW has helped conserve and care for the 1,800 acre Wissahickon Valley Park for 98 years.
FOW works directly with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to help preserve, maintain, and conserve the park.
“I do natural lands, restoration work, and FOW always help support a bunch of my projects,” Parker said, referring to his day job with Parks and Recreation.
They accomplish this through events like planting trees, public lecture series, guided walks and talks, and cleanups throughout the week.
Parker appreciates FOW and thinks the organization plays an important part in taking care of the Wissahickon Valley Park.
“They’re definitely important,” he said. “They steward the park and help support our severely understaffed Parks and Recreation Department. And we couldn’t do half the things we do without them and the volunteers that come in and actually do the on the ground work for us.”
Because FOW relies solely on membership and volunteers, having a lot of volunteers get involved is important, Green said. The Lincoln Drive cleanup brought out some first time volunteers like Brittany Andrews.
“I hike here all the time,” she said. “Wissahickon is actually my backyard because I live in Wissahickon—like the neighborhood in Philadelphia. So I figured it’d be a nice opportunity to come and clean up my own neighborhood.”
She enjoyed the energy at the event and believes the FOW brings individuals together.
“It’s just really nice to be part of something that we’re all coming together as a community to help clean it up and make it a little bit better for, you know, everyone that walks here and enjoys the Wissahickon,” she said.
The event also brought out returning volunteers like Michelle Schmidt who did not want to miss the opportunity of picking up litter while walking along Lincoln Drive with no cars.
“Just hearing the river, instead of the white noise of death machines, is amazing,” she said.
At the end of the cleanup, individuals walked back to the starting point at their respective locations to return their gloves and trash pickers. Members and volunteers were offered some snacks including granola bars and trail mix to take on their way home.
More than 100 people showed up to volunteer, Green said. The attendance shows how vital it is for Philadelphia to have an organization like the Friends of the Wissahickon, he said.
“It’s especially important that we have an organization that can step up to the plate to really take care of things that the City’s not able to,”’ Green said. “And we tend to go above and beyond.”
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