Friends of the Wissahickon’s 2020 plans for stewarding Wissahickon Valley Park were simple at the start of the year: bigger and better. With more Super Saturdays and the second annual Super Mega Service Day, FOW would cover more ground for trail improvements and native plantings. Meanwhile, our education efforts around “carry out what you carry in” would be supported by a new summer outreach crew and staff from Leave No Trace, which designated Devil’s Pool a 2020 Leave No Trace Hot Spot.
But FOW’s best laid plans didn’t factor in coronavirus. Overnight, our usual group volunteer days, trash cleanups, and in-person outreach became impossible, while more people than ever sought refuge in the Wissahickon’s green. With the park under stress from increased visitation, we needed heroes to keep stewarding — and they showed up in a big way!
“From the beginning, our volunteers were still pitching in, asking about cleaning up trash and how to get grabbers and supplies to do things solo,” said FOW Volunteer Manager Shawn Green. “It was one of the few places you could be socially distanced and safe and continue to do an activity that felt normal with so much going on.”
Even without scheduled volunteer days, FOW’s community of volunteers came together from a distance to get the job done. To make their work easier, FOW created a reporting system for volunteers to record their hours and a list of sites in the park that needed extra attention. But as the number of Wissaheroes grew, many wanted supplies or needed help for their cleanups — which led FOW to take solo volunteering to the next level by releasing Wissahero kits in August.
Inspired by our partners at the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership in Northeast Philadelphia, each Wissahero kit includes gloves, trash bags, instructions on how to request a trash grabber, and a FOW orange volunteer mask. In the first three days, over 200 people signed up for kits, which FOW distributed with the help of Cedars House Cafe and Paper Trail Bike Cafe. The response has been overwhelming and enthusiastic, with new Wissaheroes bringing family members and four-legged friends to help out with their efforts.
The success of the kits and the dedication of the Wissaheroes to cleaning the park is inspiring and speaks to FOW’s roots as an organization. Since 1924, our stewardship and programming have been driven by volunteers and our community of park stewards. When we asked, they responded in a huge way, and we are so grateful to our Wissaheroes for their hard work and love for the park.
While FOW returned to limited weekly volunteer cleanup days in September, with pre-registration and distancing required, we still need Wissaheroes! Visit fow.org/wissahero to get more information on solo volunteering, and sign up for a kit when supplies are available. Weavers Way members can also count time spent volunteering for FOW toward their working member hours, so you can spend some time outside while fulfilling your obligations.
Wishing you good health — and hoping to see you (at a distance) in the Wissahickon!