Sustainable Trails Initiative
The Sustainable Trails Initiative (STI) is a multi-stage commitment by the Friends of the Wissahickon to help make the 50 miles of natural surface National Recreation Trails in the Wissahickon Valley Park an environmentally and socially sustainable system that works for all park users.
The trail system in Wissahickon Valley Park was not so much purposefully designed as allowed to evolve. Most of the existing trails are various vestiges of roads, game trails, utility paths, and tributaries from an era in which the park was populated by mills. Because of this, many of the trails suffer from poor design and alignment which can lead to erosion, a decline in the health of the forest ecosystem, and park user conflicts. These problems are exacerbated by the reduction in city funding for parks, ever-increasing use of the park by the public, and the proliferation of impervious surfaces in the watershed outside of park boundaries (roofs, streets, parking lots, etc.).
The Sustainable Trails Initiative (STI) seeks to address all of these problems. The basic physical solution to the problems is the rebuilding of the trails themselves including closing and reclaiming some trail corridors, building new trails in new corridors, and rebuilding some trails in their existing alignment. Related improvements include the creation of better trailhead signage, the creation of way finding signage along trails and at trail intersections, and eventual integration of the entire trail system into the city’s 911 emergency response system.
These solutions aim to be both physically and socially sustainable. A physically sustainable trail will, with little maintenance, withstand the vagaries of weather and intended use without degradation of itself or the surrounding forest. A socially sustainable trail will foster the uses for which the trail is intended without engendering or exacerbating conflict among users. All of this is achieved primarily through trail location and trail design. A properly located and constructed trail will shed water without causing erosion and through its physical features will induce desirable behavior while discouraging undesirable behavior.