History

Friends of the Wissahickon is a 3,000 member, non-profit organization founded in 1924 with a mission “to conserve the natural beauty and wildness of the Wissahickon Valley and stimulate public interest therein.”

FOW's Strategic Plan

Click here to read FOW’s 2023-2026 Strategic Plan.

Timeline

1924 A group of concerned citizens came together to restore Wissahickon Valley Park after a winter storm destroyed over 200 trees, and started Friends of the Wissahickon. 

1930s FOW increased membership from 50 to 500 and raised $9,000 to plant 14,000 trees and shrubs. During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) invested $850,000 in the Wissahickon to build picnic shelters, guard houses, toilets, and trails. 

1934 FOW raised funds for the restoration of Valley Green Inn and assumed responsibility for the Inn’s care and operation. 

1964 Wissahickon Valley Park was declared a Registered Natural History Landmark (now known as National Natural Landmarks). 

1970s FOW published the first Map of the Wissahickon Valley, and Wissahickon Valley Park’s trail system was named a National Recreation Trail. 

1990s FOW began several of its signature outreach efforts–its quarterly newsletter, lecture series, and website. The first paid executive director was hired, and FOW acquired office space at the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, with whom it launched the joint Conservation and Facade Easement Program. 

2002 The William Penn Foundation awarded FOW a $280,000 “capacity building” grant, which made it possible for FOW to hire full-time professional staff, increase revenue, and undertake major projects. FOW launched a Save Our Forests fundraising effort in partnership with the Friends of Pennypack Park. 

2004 Valley Green Environmental Restoration Plan was completed. 

2005 FOW launched the Sustainable Trails Initiative (STI) and the Protect Our Watershed (POW) programs. 

2008 Volunteer leaders began working the park (Trail Ambassadors and Crew Leaders).  

2009 FOW began the Wissahickon Stormwater Mitigation and Sediment Reduction Project (completed in 2011). Guided Walks & Talks make their debut as a centerpiece of our free programming.  

2011 The Warming Shed at Valley Green, which burned down in 2010, was rebuilt by the Structures Crew. 

2012  Completed My Park Counts, the most comprehensive park survey of the Wissahickon ever conducted to date, and held its first town meeting on the health of the Wissahickon Creek. 

2014  FOW celebrated its 90th Anniversary with special events and extensive improvements to Valley Green Inn. 

2016 Good Night Wissahickon Valley Park, a board book, is published. This brightly colored picture book takes children on a hike through the Wissahickon.  

2017 Little Friends of the Wissahickon, a free educational program that provides field trips and in-class visits for Philadelphia public elementary school students, is launched.  

2018  FOW published its Strategic Blueprint for 2018-2020. Forbidden Drive is designated the Pennsylvania Trail of the Year by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The Ecological Land Management Plan (ELM) is completed, developed by a team of researchers from the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, this plan guides FOW’s land management decisions in the Wissahickon Valley and includes a detailed park-wide assessment and mapping of critical habitat zones. 

2019 FOW undertakes its largest capital project to date, the Forbidden Drive Streambank Stabilization Project, repairing three major streambank collapse sites along Forbidden Drive. 

2020 The Wissahero program, an independent volunteer program, launches. FOW’s free bilingual Map App hits the app store. FOW staff and volunteers developed the Virtual Valley as a way for park lovers to continue experiencing the park amid the Safer at Home COVID-19 guidelines. 

2021 Development of the Master Restroom Plan begins. This study will help FOW plan projects over the next ten years and secure needed funding for restrooms and operations staff in future years. The study revealed an increase in visitorship from 1.2 million in 2012 to 2 million annual park visits in 2021. The Wissahickon Valley Park is designated as a Leave No Trace hotspot, bringing national recognition and resources to the Park via the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.  

2022 Zone stewards launched. The newsletter comes back to print, this time in partnership with a new publication by the Chestnut Hill Local, Wissahickon Magazine.  

2023 The Junior Stewards program comes to fruition, an internship program that engages Philadelphia public high school students with hands-on field stewardship education.