Wissahickon Reflections

Art & stories of personal connections with Wissahickon

Just about everyone that comes to the Wissahickon has a unique connection to the park. This page is a place to share that connection through art & stories. Please consider sharing your own!


We’ve all got stories to tell. Here are just a few that were submitted by park users. 

By Shawn Green, FOW Volunteer Manager

You never know what you’re going to find in the Wissahickon, including the Wissahickon itself. I had been living in Mt. Airy for several years before I discovered that the park even existed. While driving somewhere, I must have made a wrong turn and ended up at the upper parking lot on Valley Green Road. It was a jaw-dropping moment for me that this close to the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life was a huge chunk of beautiful nature. As a child, my father regularly took my brother and I on hiking and camping trips throughout Pennsylvania. Over the course of my college years, I’d somehow forgotten how wonderful it was to be in nature. The discovery of Wissahickon Valley Park not only re-sparked that love of trail explorations, but also solidified Philadelphia as my home.

I spent pretty much every day I wasn’t working on the trails of the Wissahickon. I had no knowledge of the park’s history, no knowledge of who Friends of the Wissahickon was, and I didn’t even have a map. All I knew was I could spend a full day hiking and never had to retrace my steps. Each trail intersection was an invitation to explore and find something new. As years went on, each apartment I moved to got progressively closer and closer to the park. It became my refuge; a place to unwind, to run and hike in, to take my friends to, to sit in and let the stress of the day wash away with the flow of the creek.

Finally after years of using the park, I decided that I needed to do something to give back to this place that had meant so much to me. I became a Friends of the Wissahickon member and went to my first FOW volunteer service day, a planting along the Sumac Street trailhead. It was a fantastic turn out of like-minded folks: people that loved the park as much as I did, who had great senses of humor, and who felt like a true community. I remember feeling slightly jealous of the Volunteer Coordinator. “She gets to work in the park doing all this cool stuff,” I thought. “How lucky!” Oh, what I would do for a job like that…

I spent the morning working with Crew Leader, Lisa Stout, who taught our group how to properly plant, how to unwrap the roots and give them some tough love before putting them in the ground. The location we were planting in had clearly been a dumping ground for many years. As we dug holes to reforest this area, we found countless bottles, wires, car parts, and other various trash. The strangest thing of all I found (which took some time to uncover and figure out just what it was) was an old record turntable that had been buried about a foot under the soil.

Fast forwarding even more years (and skipping lots of details) I am now FOW’s Volunteer Manager. I get to plan, organize, recruit, and work with volunteers, which I regularly say is the best job at FOW. One of my favorite things is welcoming volunteers at our service days, often spotting the newcomers that, like myself years ago, are just finding their way to our stewardship mission. How wonderful it is to see them return again and again!

You never know what you’re going to find in the Wissahickon. Sometimes it’s observing a species of bird you’ve never seen before. Sometimes it’s a buried turntable. And sometimes it’s a trail that leads you to beautiful, new places.

Want in on this?
Submit your own Wissahickon Story by clicking here!

Story Archives - Click to read more!

Submitted by Jennifer Opdycke:
My Wissahickon Journey started about 5 years ago.  It is one of self-discovery and a newfound spirituality that – much like pictures of places like the Wissahickon – words do not do justice.

I had been living in Philadelphia for nearly 20 years, and yet my trips to any part of the Wissahickon were only on occasions where myself and some wild friends would wander the woods after a bender.  There was no meaning, no observation, and no appreciation as to our surroundings.  It was just background scenery and for the most part, my trips to the Wissahickon were a blur.

In 2007, I lost my 15-year old brother to a freak accident.  This was a low point in my life, and alcohol became my crutch – something to help me escape. However, in 2013, I decided to make the decision to get sober.  And after about 2 years of success, I was enlightened enough to finally start exploring the world around me.  I started running and getting healthy.  After a while, running on the city streets was ok, but I wanted more.  That is where my real journey began.

I knew a great place to start exploring was right in my backyard:  The Wissahickon.  I started going to the Bells Mill Road section of Forbidden Drive and running there.  After a short while, even that was not enough for me and I wanted more.  I kept going to that same Forbidden Drive parking lot, but instead of running on the paved road, I explored the Orange Trail, then, once I became acclimated, I started to wander onto the other sister trails, like the White and the Lavender Trails.  This became a regular, weekend ritual for me.  A “church,” as I like to call it.  I would run the trails out to at least the Valley Green Inn, and as far as the Fingerspan Bridge.  As if the runs weren’t meditation enough, I would find my designated special rock in the creek where I would sit and meditate some more, in stillness. I found myself equating my runs with life.  Sometimes, it was hard, but if you persevere, you will come out stronger and more confident.  You can even enjoy the struggle.  After, while on “my rock,” I would equate the flowing water with that same meditation on life.  After the ripples and rapids, there are periods of calm and serenity; always transcending. And it is all beautiful.

Submitted by Rochelle Fellman, FOW Trail Ambassador

I am 15 years old, enjoying a lazy summer morning with my friend, Francine, and her cousin, Diane. Suddenly, Fran suggests that we go horseback riding.

“What? None of us have ever been close to a horse, let alone ON one!” I sputter. BUT…I feel excitement building within me. Off to get permission from our parents to visit a place called “The Wissahickon”. Three moms reluctantly agree to let us go as we pack sandwiches. We are off on an adventure – two bus rides from deep South Philly to an unknown territory.

We reach a place in Roxborough, along Henry Avenue. There we make our way down into a green space the likes of which I have never seen before. Trees, Trees everywhere! I don’t have one single tree on my block!

We find the horses. The guided ride is fun. The young guys who help us are kind, but the most fun is eating by the water after our ride and just enjoying the quiet of this beautiful “Wissahickon”.

I don’t want to leave, but the day comes to an end too soon. Back we go to our lives in South Philly. But I do not forget this day. I know I’ll return.

Submitted by Deidra Greenleaf Allan:

I live a few blocks from the Wissahickon Creek as it travels near West Valley Green Road. For years I’ve been visiting the stream and sitting along its banks. I’ve taken my granddaughter for walks along its trails, where she was first introduced to uncultivated nature. Together we’ve watched a turtle surfing the currents of the stream and snakes gracefully swimming in the shallows. We’ve been nearly trampled by deer leaping across the path in front of us and been stung by countless nettles in the summer. We’ve even tried our hand at fishing, but caught more tree branches than fish.

Over the years I’ve seen floods and storms reconfigure the Wissahickon’s banks. Familiar resting places, like the old tree root that curved into the air to make a perfect seat, have disappeared, but new places, such as a small “beachfront” of sand, have offered themselves. The trails have been gentrified from rutted grass and dirt to macadam, and even the face of the stream has been transformed by the slow migrations of logs, branches, rocks, and sand.

While part of me wishes that the stream and its surrounding habitat would remain the same, its changes are an irrefutable reminder that life, too, is a constant flow, winding us through the blessings of sunlit fields and the confusion and darkness of tangled undergrowth, but always keeping us moving —toward new discoveries, longer perspectives.

Submitted by Buzz Wemple, FOW Structures Crew

While biking with my wife Jill on Forbidden Drive in September, 1997, I noticed that several of the disintegrating cedar roofs on various structures had been replaced with new cedar shingles. They were beautiful.

Further on down we came upon a crew replacing yet another cedar roof. I slowed down to look and I heard my wife yell “Chicken if you don’t!” So-o-o, I stopped, got off my bike, and started to talk to a Fairmount Park icon, Ed Stainton. He “hired” me on the spot and I became a dedicated structures crew worker.

Since that time, I have been involved in countless varieties of projects, i.e., roofing, bridges, trail work, framing, bench repair, and rebuilding the Valley Green warming shed, not once but twice due to flooding and fire. I hate to say this, but many of the cedar roofs that we replaced are beginning to decompose due to serious water damage and the inability to thoroughly dry out. It has, for me, been a labor of love – woodworking, great people, and in a beautiful environment

Thanks for the opportunity. See you in the park sometime.


Check out some of the art created in and inspired by Wissahickon Valley Park. 

“American Robin” by Troy Bynum – facebook.com/TBWildlifePhotography/

Want in on this?
Submit your own Wissahickon Art by clicking here!

Don’t forget to submit your art in the 2020 Biennial Photo Contest! See all of the details and submit your artwork here!

Art Archives - Click to see more!

“Seating by the Wissahickon” by Virginia Butz

“Bald Eagle” by Troy Bynum – facebook.com/TBWildlifePhotography/

“Wissahickon Family” by Christine Bamberger 

“Smile!” by Troy Bynum – facebook.com/TBWildlifePhotography/

“Rock Outcrop” mosaic by Lisa Myers – www.instagram.com/lisam1922/

“Eastern Gray Squirrel” by Troy Bynum – facebook.com/TBWildlifePhotography/

“Green Frog” by Troy Bynum – facebook.com/TBWildlifePhotography/

“Midsummer on the Cresheim” by Shawn Green


“VGI Celebrity” by Jane Kleinwww.artdogdraws.com/work 


“Muscovy Duck” by Troy Bynum –instagram.com/chris_bynum/








“Downy Woodpecker” by Joe Durrance


Excepts from the project started by Morgan Hurm, inspired by a letter found in the Red Covered Bridge written by Kathryn Walker. Read more about this project here!

Dear Bridge:
We hope the creek stays this way forever. Truly the most beautiful hidden gem of Philadelphia.
-Maggie & Winston

Dear Bridge:
Such a beautiful bridge – if the walls could talk it would share a lot. Keep standing strong – we need you as a visual to help us be strong.
-Visitor from NJ

Dear Bridge:
I took my children hiking for the first time. They were so excited!!! We want more memories like today! Peace, love, and happiness!

Dear Bridge:
Enjoy your time in this moment…In this space. Remember Mother Nature is always taking care of you, so don’t forget to take care of her.
-2 Earth friends

Good Morning Bridge:
My son and I enjoy coming to this park. So calm and peaceful. Our favorite place to come to escape the noisy city. This is our 2nd time crossing this bridge and I must say it’s better the 2nd time!
-Trina & Zay


Love Letters Selections - Click to read more!

Dear Bridge: 
I grew up in Central PA where covered bridges are (were, perhaps!) so ordinary that we only thought about them when showing them to family visiting from New York City.
This bridge, these woods, are huge reasons why I love Philly. It’s a small-town city, an urban delight with a rural backyard –
Pause to look at the bridge and think about all who crossed it, and the ones that stood here in years past.

Dear Bridge:
As the water flows below me and follows its own path
You stand true and steady for all of us to pass.
So happy you are faithful and so sturdy and true,
Please be here for tomorrow, we need to see you.

Hello Mr. Bridge:
(Or is it a Ms.?)
Breath is the structure upon which we both endure.
You expand and contract. As do I.
I am you. You are me. Harmony.

Hello Bridge!
Thank you for being a solid, quiet watcher of the water. The Wissahickon is our happy place.
-Eliza & Nathaniel

Dear Bridge:
I woke up feeling kind of sad, so I put on some good music and blasted it in my car. I wound up here – sun on my face and wind in my hair. It seemed like the river carried away my problems and cleansed me. I’m leaving my bad feelings under the bridge and walking to the other side feeling fresh and new. Thank you for the good day, Wissahickon.

Dear Bridge:
This place is where my mom loves to go. I think is very special to my mom. She loves to be outdoors. We have 1 dog, 8 fish, and some other snails that proves we love animals. We love earth. It is all very special place. I am glad I got brought here. We are very lucky to be on this earth.

Dear Bridge:
Pro tip for the best skipping rocks go to the right side of the bridge. Put your back into it!

Dear Bridge:
I left my scent somewhere secret.
-Poco (the dog)

Dear Bridge:
Hi, my name is Grace and my favorite color is red.

Dear Bridge:
I’m not from Philly originally, but after 4.5 years this city is home. I love so many things about living here. I don’t live far from the park, so when I have free time I love to come over and walk/hike the trails. This park is where I’ve spent so much time, taken lots of photos, and done a lot of thinking. I decided about a year ago to change my life, to eat better, to get in shape. I’ve come so far, and this park has been a part of that adventure. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am excited for it. I’m looking forward to new things, new people, new places. But I always hold a special place in my heart for the people, places, and things that have shaped me into the person I am today. I’m grateful for the city and the park, for the joy and peace they bring to me and to the community. I love to bring friends and family here to visit, but solo adventures like today’s are my favorite.
-Love to all, A

Dear Bridge:
Find what fills you and do more of that. The world needs happy, loving, full hearts.

Dear Bridge:
The Downriver Roller Dolls were here!
-from Detroit, Michigan

Dear Bridge:
This place is great to go to the water falls, the bridges, and all the fun things to do.

Dear Bridge:
Don’t go in the seasonal restrooms. That’s where they keep the girl with monkey feet. I can’t wait to marry her.
-Randall and Katie

Dear Bridge:
On this day, Outdoors Club Students of West Chester University visited this Wissahickon bridge. Thanks for a great time. P.S. As bridge pens go, we rate this one 10/10

Dear Bridge:
On a long, exciting, cool day such as this, I am happy to relax here. What I’m saying is, thank you.

Dear Bridge:
I’m out for a walk with my 4 year old son AJ, and it’s a beautiful day! I hope he cherishes the times we spend together even half as much as I do! I wish whomever reads this luck, love, prosperity, and happiness in 2019! As we always said in the Army, “Keep the greasy side down!”
-Matt and AJ

Dear Bridge:
I am so in love with this park, and so grateful for Mother Earth! Let there always be nature. Wishing love to my fellow human beings.

Dear Bridge:
Wow I love this world! First run since I was diagnosed with anemia, so happy to be doing the thing that makes me happy again!

Dear Bridge:
Ok, I’ll be the first… I’m out for a walk with my 4 year old son AJ, and it’s a beautiful day! I hope he cherishes the times we spend together even half as much as I do! I wish whomever reads this luck, love, prosperity, and happiness! As we always said in the Army, “Keep the greasy side down!” -Matt and AJ

Dear Bridge:
I like it here because there are lakes, rivers, mountains. I went in a river to be wet. -Raziel

Dear Anti-Troll Bridge:
On a long, exciting, cool day such as this, I am happy to relax here. What I’m saying is, thank you!

Dear Bridge:
I love the way you smell like sun-warmed wood and then the breeze cools me and the shade take me under the roof.

Dear Bridge:
Thank you for allowing me to see that there is always another side. That our journey does not end here. And that I am always walking with other souls.

Dear Bridge:
We visited from UK and Scotland. Beautiful location. You have aided river crossings for many years. May you survive to continue your good work for years to come.

Dear Bridge:
You are  my favorite part of my walk through Forbidden Drive. I love running up and down across you. When I see you, it means I can get out of my stroller.
Conner (2 y/o)

Dear Bridge:
One of the most beautiful landmarks in the city. Walk across and listen to the sound of the nearby waterfall and you can escape the evils in the world. What a blessing. Close to paradise.

Dear Bridge:
Roses are red, violets are blue, the bridge is red and I love you!

Dear Bridge:
This is Maxwell. Me and my family love hiking here and we always can’t wait to see you and everything. I will love the Wiss forever and hope that everyone does too! Talk to you soon!
Love, Maxwell

Dear Bridge:
Sunlight streaming
Sturdy wooden planks
Glistening river through the slats
Voices floating by
Peace. Beauty. Love. Kindness

Dear Bridge:
This is our first time on this trail. We were hoping to find a bridge but were about to turn back – then you appeared! Thanks for the serendipitous surprise for a 2 year old and her Mommy! – J&C

Dear Anti-Troll Bridge:
Thank you for keeping us safe from all the scary trolls. We had a safe crossing.

You probably don’t need us to tell you how special Wissahickon Valley Park is. It’s 1800 acres provides habitat to wildlife, refuge & recreation to over a million visitors per year, and protects the drinking water for one third of Philadelphians. The park can’t take care of itself, however. It needs responsible park users and stewards to keep this special place clean and sustainable for generations to come.

Help us take care of the park by donating or becoming a member,
or by volunteering with us at a future service day!