Growing into a year-round love for the Wissahickon

Nature // January 05, 2022

By Nicole Zapata, Weavers Way Co-op

The Wissahickon and I have been friends going on 10 years—roughly the age of my oldest child. In the beginning, I approached the park with trepidation, feeling self-conscious for not knowing where to park, in which direction to walk, or what to bring. But I wanted to be “in nature” and expose my new baby to this oasis spread out near our semi-urban home.

My son was the buffer to my nervousness in getting out there and not feeling out of place. So I went, armed with baby carrier, snacks, and a plan to bail if it didn’t go well. And over the past decade, my relationship with the park has evolved in many ways.

We are now regular visitors to the Wissahickon, having explored many parts, yet so little of the whole. We traded out the carrier for bikes, met up with friends, dipped our feet in the pools, briefly homeschooled outside, explored new trails and repeated familiar ones, lost afternoons, and quickly recharged during an overscheduled weekend.

With my youngest now in kindergarten, I recently took a rare solo hike with only my dog along. As I walked a one-mile loop that I had never hiked before—parking at Bells Mill and walking down Forbidden Drive, turning right to climb up the hill and back to where I started—I realized that I have my kids to thank for so much of my relationship with the Wissahickon and nature.

Most meaningful lately has been the ability to get out in winter and enjoy the cold air. I would take them out for fresh air, desperate to get out of the house. We started out frazzled, wrapped in snow clothes, sometimes with friends. We never walked far but always returned better than when we left. Without their bottled-up winter energy, I may never have discovered the joy of a winter hike.

When they were little and going to nature preschool, they taught me how to identify the fallen leaves of the tulip poplar, sassafras and sweet gum trees. As they grow older and forget their tree knowledge, I retell them what they first taught me. We’ve looked for ice to break with rocks, romped in the snow, dipped candles at the Tree House, visited Woodland Santa, helped plant the Food Forest, gone on winter-birthday scavenger hikes, brought and eaten winter picnics of bread, cheese, and hot chocolate, and marveled at the changes in the park.

Now our family brings friends when they visit from out of town. Or we give each other a break and take one kid solo to fix their mood, the way being under the trees only can. Even though it’s a little less inviting to bundle up and get out of a warm house when it’s cold, we discovered that when the cold and tree-cleaned air fills our lungs, it feels like magic. The trees take the Wissahickon from a shaded, somewhat noisy escape from the heat in summer, to a cold, leafless open sky in winter. Everything is quieter. The creek can be a little louder. And we always leave happier.

We developed this relationship over time by carefully taking in the gifts of the Wissahickon. Remembering to leave no trace, we join in on cleanups, support FOW whenever we can, and continue learning from all the park has to offer.

Nicole Zapata is a Weavers Way Co-op working member. Weavers Way Co-op members earn working member credit by volunteering for FOW.