Devil’s Pool Update
Devil’s Pool has been a summer destination for people from Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey for many years. Swimming in Pennsylvania creeks and tributaries is illegal, but swimming and diving at Devil’s Pool have become very popular in recent years; both activities were showcased in a front-page cover photo in the New York Times in 2011 and have been featured in videos on social media.
FOW’s 2011 park user count and survey determined that 400+ people visit Devil’s Pool per day during peak season. Neighborhood parking patterns suggest that Devil’s Pool visitors have increased 60% over 2011 levels. Inappropriate use has spread from the site and nearby Pee Wee Rock to Valley Green Bridge, Bluestone Bridge, and stream banks near Mt. Airy Avenue and Kitchen’s Lane. This overuse creates or intensifies a variety of problems, inside and outside of the park:
- Heavy use devastates the forest habitat, creates massive erosion, and sediment washes into the creek. Visitors leave graffiti, trash, debris, and ash, which is also washed into the creek, compromising water quality.
- There are no lifeguards, and jumping into Devil’s Pool from rocks or the arched sewer conduit results in multiple serious injuries each year. Water quality in the Wissahickon and Cresheim Creeks is unpredictable; the Wissahickon is up to 90% treated wastewater in the dry season (August), and fecal coliform counts regularly exceed the allowable federal maximum.
- Devil’s Pool is difficult for police and emergency personnel to access on foot and by vehicle; illegal parking exacerbates the problem. Despite a Streets Department address system overlay in FOW’s wayfinding signage, 911 responders often cannot navigate the park or accurately assign incident locations because of database discrepancies. “Dead zones” for cellular, radio, and data access make calling for assistance problematic.
- Most Devil’s Pool visitors come for family recreation, including picnicking and swimming. But some visitors engage in prohibited behaviors beyond swimming, including drug and alcohol use. Car break-ins, short dumping, and even occasional violent crime are reported during peak-use periods. West Mount Airy Neighbors has received reports of aggressive interactions, public nudity, and urination.
Since 2007 FOW has invested $400,000 in physical improvements to trails, habitat restoration, and signage near Devil’s Pool, and another $200,000 on program costs, including seasonal work crews, Student Conservation Association (SCA) summer crews, and subsidies for police and park ranger overtime. We also conduct publicity and community outreach, schedule public clean-ups, and install bilingual, temporary signage outlining park ordinances and the health risks of illegal swimming. Below are actions FOW undertook in 2017:
- Employed a three-person Seasonal Field Crew who dedicated 50% of their time to Devil’s Pool. In just two weeks, this crew and FOW volunteers removed 200 bags of trash (one U.S. ton). This is equal to what is typically removed during one season.
- Renewed our summer contract with SCA, whose crew of six students and a leader cared for Devil’s Pool and other Wissahickon locations for six weeks.
- Renewed our bilingual, temporary signage advising visitors of park ordinances and the health dangers of swimming in the creek.
- Participated in Councilman Curtis Jones’ May 2017 hearing on cell service dead zones in Philadelphia parks, and hosted a walkthrough of the Valley Green and Devil’s Pool areas for City Council and cell industry representatives.
- Met with Park Ranger and 14th Police District leadership to discuss enforcement options. Captain Hearn issued a press release to help shape our public awareness efforts around Devil’s Pool.
- Participated in the Northwest Police Divisional Town Meeting in June with some impacted neighbors and the local Town Watch Representative.
- Contracted with the Philadelphia Police Department to supplement Park Ranger presence in the Wissahickon, starting on July 4th weekend. Cost: $10K.
- Supplied additional trash and recycling containers at the site, and maintained the trash bag station for park visitors.
- Applied with PPR for DCNR funding to create a toilet access plan for the Wissahickon. In the interim, we have requested two ADA accessible toilets at the trailheads leading to Devil’s Pool via Livezey Lane and Valley Green Road, with a daily maintenance schedule.
- Approved a comprehensive plan for traffic flow control near Valley Green Inn as part of a master plan for the Valley Green Inn/Wise’s Mill park entrance area, two major entrances for Devil’s Pool.
- Committed to transit connectivity planning with SEPTA and local CDCs to ease parking pressure in and around the park and create access alternatives.
- Participated in the community meeting planned by Councilwoman Cindy Bass’ office to discuss community-based solutions for near neighbors and park visitors.
- FOW and partners should create an access plan for the Valley Green Inn area that better manages traffic and access to the area, and transit and public toilet plans for all of Wissahickon Valley Park.
- FOW should work with the City and service providers to complete cell service assessment and install “mini-cells” to fill in any service gaps.
- Improve communication infrastructure among City departments to facilitate enforcement and record keeping on relevant incidents.
by Maura McCarthy, Executive Director