Documenting the Wissahickon, One Trail at a Time

News // November 16, 2021

With one week left in the 2021 All Trails challenge, our challengers are on their final stretch to get to 50 miles – and however much they can fundraise for Wissahickon Valley Park! We caught up with Susan Niescier, who’s taking the challenge for a second time and lots of photos along the way.

How did you find out about the Wissahickon and the All Trails Challenge? 

I live in Roxborough, so I’m actually very close to some of the trails including the Hermitage and Hermit’s Cave – I’ve been hiking part of them for a while including the bridle paths and the ones closer to the Roxborough area. I had just finished my doctorate at Temple last August, and I had followed FOW on social media and seen a post, so I decided a great way to fill the time would be to take my dog Odie through the 50 miles of trails over the fall.

We’ve seen your pictures and sort of travelled along with you that way! For us, they’re really interesting as they document the park as it goes through seasonal changes in the fall – what got you started with this photography project?

I love taking pictures, but I’m far from a photographer. I take most of my pictures with just my iPhone. My dog is such a great subject, he likes to look at the camera and smile – and then I love watching the leaves turn over the course of the challenge. Seeing the different views of the park as the months go on, you know, the birth and renewal of the leaves and flowers and just the ebb and flow of the creek. 


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You’re on your second ATC now in 2021. What’s different about the second challenge?

With all the storms I’ve noticed that the trails just look very different. And even though I’m going over the same path, I notice new things each time. Last year it was the unknown – I would often get lost in the woods and just hope I would find the path again. This year I know how to map out my hikes a little better; I really appreciate the mini map I got in the mail at the end of the challenge last year, and I’m able to spread that out and figure out based on the time of day and time of week what would be a good hike to do that day. And when it’s busier, I don’t like to go to the busier parking lots. I’ll go to a place like Pachella Field or the Houston Meadow… you know Valley Green on a Saturday. 

Are there particular favorite places for you in the park? 

That’s the great thing about this challenge, you get to find places that you didn’t think to explore because you just didn’t know they existed. One of my favorite hikes is the Houston Meadow loop, to see all the wildlife coming out as you’re hiking is pretty thrilling, and it’s an amazing sunset area too. Another hike that’s really fun is the haunted hike, where you see some of the spookier places of the Wissahickon like the cave of Kelpius, Lover’s leap, The sarcophagus and Rittenhouse town. Those are fun places to explore. I actually really enjoyed walking under the Henry Avenue Bridge and to see all the interesting artwork that’s just under there… I know it’s graffiti, but there’s some really amazing artwork just under the Henry Avenue Bridge. 

As a teacher, do you ever think of taking your class to the Wissahickon?

I would love to! When I taught in Philadelphia, we did do a couple hikes where we would take them to the Wissahickon but now that I see a lot of different classes as a elementary reading specialist, I don’t take field trips anymore. 

Any more thoughts? 

This is a fantastic challenge. It’s a way to get out there and discover so much of the park that you won’t know about unless you really, really look closely. And it was super fun to get the prize at the end, I didn’t know until I finished that I’d get a free pizza and beer! [All challengers that complete 50 miles and raise 50 dollars for Wissahickon Valley Park get a free pizza and beer from Chestnut Hill Brewing Co.]

Funds raised through the ATC help FOW care for the park’s 1,800 acres and improve all 50 miles of trail in the park yearly so they can support Wissahickon Valley Park’s nearly 1.5 million annual visitors. Support a challenger at!