‘Wissaheroes’ Respond to Tackle Park’s COVID Trash Problem

by 
Ruffian Tittmann, Executive Director, Friends of the Wissahickon
Top: The Kopinsky family — Lonna Gordon, with husband Michael and sons Ayal and Zev removes trash from the creek; Bottom: Runner Sophorn Choup Duggan helps clean up the trails.

COVID-19 has presented FOW with a dual challenge; it prompted a huge surge in visitors to Wissahickon Valley Park while severely limiting our core volunteer operations to keep up with all the litter that unfortunately got left behind. This unique situation required a unique solution. 

Having always relied on the power of volunteers, we appealed to the supportive nature of our wider community to help take an active role in the stewardship of the park, and we launched our Wissaheroes campaign in June. This DIY cleanup initiative came complete with trash bags, gloves and a special volunteer-branded mask, along with instructions, safety tips and specific locations that are consistently in need of attention.

Our Wissaheroes came to the rescue. As of October 13, 217 of them have come out on their own, putting in over 375 hours of cleaning, picking up and hauling out more than 7,000 pounds of litter from the Wissahickon Creek and forest. 

It just goes to show you that pandemic or not, as long as people are coming to the park, they will always be there to care for this special place. As the saying goes, “Not all heroes wear capes;” sometimes they wear masks and carry trash grabbers. As we approach Thanksgiving, I want to express my sincere gratitude on behalf of everyone at FOW for this tremendous outpouring of support to make the park a better place. 

Why Be a Wissahero? 

Lonna Gordon (with husband Michael Kopinsky and children Ayal and Zev):

“We’ve often thought about volunteering. This year, when the email came asking for Wissaheroes, we thought, ‘We can do this!’ Any time, any place — you don’t get more convenient than that. Michael, an Eagle Scout, already tends to pick up litter when he hikes, so the kids are pretrained to spot trash on the trail. Our kids are two and four and eager to help with whatever we do. The program gives us a great opportunity to spend family time in a park we love while also making it a better place for others. Plus, our kids will learn to share and care for the spaces that give them joy.” 

Sophorn Choup-Duggan 

“I first discovered the Wissahickon in the summer of 2012 when a friend asked me to do a run on Forbidden Drive. Immediately, I felt drawn to the park’s boundless beauty of lush forests, rugged trails and historic structures nestled within the boundaries of Philadelphia. I’m fortunate to live close to the park, which offers convenient access for trail running and the opportunity to explore distinctive sections of the beautiful park. In recent years, I found myself logging many running miles in the park, so I wanted to give back and help maintain the trails I used often. Also, I wanted to commit my time in any way possible by volunteering with Friends of the Wissahickon to do trail maintenance or simply picking up trash in the park. I felt it was important to share the beauty and love of the Wissahickon with others.” 

Want to be a Wissahero?

It’s easy to get involved and a great way to spend time outdoors while earning Weavers Way working member credit. Get started by going to fow.org/wissahero for details.