Somewhere in the Park the Seasonals Roam

News // July 18, 2023

By Claire Brennan

It’s 8 AM on an overcast Thursday morning at Friends of the Wissahickon’s Shop, a garage that sits in the shadow of another Park’s facility and houses rakes, sledgehammers, 2x4s, birdhouses, hard hats, plastic jack-o-lanterns, twine, and Duracell batteries.

Amber and Marisa, two of FOW’s five Seasonal Crew Staff, wander down the rocky hill to start another day of stewarding Wissahickon Park.

The pair agree they never imagined they’d be lucky enough to spend all day in the park, a place they used to explore for leisure but now get paid to steward.

“I was out in the Wissahickon, basically hiking every day, as a personal goal, and I kept passing trash at Devil’s Pool and thought, I should do something to give back to this place I spend so much time at,” said Marissa, a Roxborough resident who still walks the border of the park to work each morning.

Marisa got involved with David Bower’s Wednesday Stewardship and, from that point, was hooked on improving their favorite place to escape to.

Patricia, FOW’s Field Coordinator, divvies up tasks for the morning. No day is the same, but the goal always remains. Improve the park and park users’ experience. This morning, the start of their weekend workweek, which runs from Thursday to Sunday, they’re checking the trail counters.

There are ten small, gray boxes along the trail, with do-not-disturb signs posted that assure passersby they’re not cameras. While they look out of place against a de-technologized landscape, they collect important data on how many park users frequent each area. Five more will be added in the coming months, which will likely add to the time it takes the Seasonals to venture Forbidden Drive and hit all their checkpoints. But they don’t seem to mind.

Even though it takes the two anywhere between three and four hours to consult each counter, they tell me it’s one of their favorite tasks.

“I like just being on the trails and making sure sight lines are clear by cutting back invasives,” Marissa says. “It’s also nice to be in the shade; it really is cooler under the trees.”

Amber agrees that being out on the trails is the best part of the gig, and riding the gator, of course, they agree. The green John Deere ATV, a park golf cart if you will, sits in the adjacent garage and will take them up and down the Drive today while they collect the counter’s data.

More regularly, the Seasonals can be found collecting litter at high-volume areas like Devil’s Pool. They come with garbage bags in hand and encourage folks to take some for themselves to mitigate the effects of regularly scheduled summer increases in visitation.

Seasonals are crucial to FOW operations in the summer months, which is why their stint runs from late Spring to early Fall. FOW has a full-time staff of 12 people, including a field team of five, for all beautiful 2,000 acres of park.

“The last time we were at Devil’s Pool, ten people joined in and started helping us collect trash,” Amber said happily. “I think that seeing that, oh, some kids are the ones cleaning up this trash, and not Parks & Rec makes people more aware,” added Marisa.

It’s true that for how much better it is to bag up your trash than it is to leave it on the ground, someone else still must lug out whatever is left behind.

Amber has established a number of universal truths while working as a Seasonal:

  1. Everything will be just as heavy when you leave the park as when you’re coming in.
  2. You’re going to be tired after a day of fun in the park and thus more inclined to leave trash you don’t want to carry.
  3. Two half-full trash bags are easier to carry than one full one.

Four years ago, Amber was a freshman in college studying chemistry with the goal of becoming a Forensic Scientist. They found themselves studying bones and other crime scene evidence as a part of the curriculum. After taking a few biology classes, they discovered they were more drawn to studying plants and pursuing conservation work.

Now, they’re getting a behind-the-scenes look at how a park operates and conserves its native habitat with an experienced team to guide them. “Watching Varian’s and Patricia’s minds work on a job is so cool,” they smiled.

Amber reflected on how rewarding it was to work on something as tangible as the trail re-route near Hermit’s Cave, “We had just finished the re-route, and a family came walking by and asked if the route was done,” they said. “I asked if they wanted to be the first to try it out. They were so excited!”

Marisa is currently working on getting Master Naturalist certified, which qualifications are a hybrid of volunteering and continuing education on plants, animals, and geography. A great way to learn, network, and make connections.

“Trees are what got me interested in learning about nature,” said Marisa. “There are non-native trees in the park, but Pennsylvania has so many beautiful trees to offer.”

Both Marisa and Amber’s natural curiosity seems to motivate their work in the park. FOW is pleased to have such a passionate group of Seasonal Staff to help them on their mission of stewarding the Wissahickon Park.

If you see a green gator rolling down Forbidden Drive, make sure to give them a wave! You might just have the pleasure of meeting one of our five Seasonals on their daily mission.