Restrooms in the Park: What we need and how we get there
As year-round visitorship in the 1,800-acre Wissahickon Valley Park continues to increase, so does the need for operable facilities to accommodate this use. The Trust for Public Land estimates a park of the Wissahickon’s size should have approximately 25 restrooms, yet currently, there are just 11 total restrooms and 3 urinals, with only 6.5 toilets (urinals count as half toilets) open all year.
The ongoing Restroom Master Plan is one of FOW’s major strategic projects developed to address this problem. The goal of this plan is to provide park accessibility to a greater number of users—from children to older adults— and to people with limited mobility, whose ability to visit or stay in the park depends on accessible facilities. In partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR), the plan is largely supported by funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which awarded FOW a $75,000 grant in early fall that was matched dollar for dollar by a private donor. Such funding is a significant step toward making this costly project a reality. The plan is the initial step of a longer process that will responsibly guide any future development regarding restrooms in the park.
At a virtual public meeting in September hosted by FOW, Rosa Mannion, landscape architect from project consultant NV5, explained “all the complicated things that are brought to bear in a watershed park of this size located in a city to come up with a roadmap for going forward.” The long list of factors being evaluated includes existing facilities, park terrain limitations, ADA accessibility, flood plain implications, sewer and utility availability, zoning codes, stewardship, and, of course, cost and maintenance.
Mannion also shared proposed options for restroom locations, as well as current data FOW has collected from park-user counters and responses to the community-wide survey gathered throughout the summer. Mannion noted that most respondents favored future potential restrooms close to parking lots, which corresponds with user counts, and that the top three preferred amenities were handwashing sinks, water fountains or water bottle-filling stations, and accessible restrooms. “However, when it comes to restroom facility type preferences, no one size fits all,” she said. “But overall, everyone wants clean, open, and accessible restrooms.”
The Restroom Master Plan process is ongoing. Rank your preferences on the six proposed restroom facility locations in the park by visiting this site, which also provides the opportunity to add comments. So far, preferences are trending toward the higher-use areas at the southern end of the park, such as the Valley Green Inn warming shed near Forbidden Drive (voted #1 in a real-time poll taken at the meeting), the Valley Green Road upper parking lot, and Ten Box at Lincoln Drive. Mannion stressed that public meetings are a key component in the master planning process of this pilot project.
Mark your calendar to join us at a follow-up virtual meeting on February 16, 2022, at 6 p.m. for updates on the draft master plan, which is expected by spring 2022, and another opportunity for public comment. For any questions about the project, contact Pauline Berkowitz, capital projects coordinator at email@example.com.
In addition to updates and next steps, Rosa Mannion fielded questions that will help shape the installation of new restroom facilities in the Wissahickon. Here are a few of the questions with her responses:
Is there a problem having too many bathrooms? “We are looking at balancing where we see the value of adding amenities, both to improve the visitor experience as well as the landscape. A major limiting factor is not wanting to disturb too much landscape, if any at all, that could create new impervious locations. And in trying to limit human impact in the park, we’re looking at a much longer time horizon to achieve full restroom outfitting.
Why are portable toilets not being considered? “Portable toilets need frequent servicing. During the park’s high-use season, which has expanded to about six months of the year, the toilets should be cleaned once daily, which is expensive and not really feasible, considering the large landscape that needs to be covered. It’s not like with a special event where you can line up a row of toilets in one location. Portable toilets are always part of the equation, but this master plan is focused on permanent amenities.”
Speaking of maintenance, how does it figure into the master plan? “We are first evaluating several types of facilities and materials that best meet our diverse needs, and then we will review them in terms of the frequency and cost of maintenance required.”