Mark Focht, First Deputy Commissioner at Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR), cuts the ribbon and makes the Wissahickon East parcel an official part of the Philadelphia Park System. Seen here also are Howard Coale (from left) and Antje Mattheus of Wissahickon East Project (WEP); Friends of the Wissahickon Executive Director Maura McCarthy; PPR's Mark Focht, Kim David of David Brothers Landscaping; State Senator LeAnna Washington, Deputy Mayor Mike DiBerardinis, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Dr. Arlene Bennett of WEP, City of Philadelphia Senior Attorney Lawrence Copeland and neighbor Bruce O'Neill. (Photos by Nick Kelsh)

Mark Focht, First Deputy Commissioner at Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR), cuts the ribbon and makes the Wissahickon East parcel an official part of the Philadelphia Park System. Seen here also are Howard Coale (from left) and Antje Mattheus of Wissahickon East Project (WEP); Friends of the Wissahickon Executive Director Maura McCarthy; PPR’s Mark Focht, Kim David of David Brothers Landscaping; State Senator LeAnna Washington, Deputy Mayor Mike DiBerardinis, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Dr. Arlene Bennett of WEP, City of Philadelphia Senior Attorney Lawrence Copeland and neighbor Bruce O’Neill. (Photos by Nick Kelsh)

by Antje Mattheus

Wissahickon East Project

On April 26, 2014, with a Creek Clean Up and ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Wissahickon East Project (WEP) at Anderson Street and Woodbrook Lane in East Mt. Airy celebrated 25 years of neighborhood activism that led to the formation of a six-acre walk-to park.

WEP thanked private citizens and public officials who over the years helped save the land from developers, increased public safety and started to restore land and creek. One hundred ten people came out to work, thank each other and celebrate community.

The work event, which yielded massive amounts of trash, was organized by Friends of the Wissahickon, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) and WEP, and was conducted in partnership with the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association’s Annual Creek Clean Up.

What became a park started as an informal initiative to deal with trash dumping and criminal activities. In 1989 neighbors removed piles of trash (including four old cars), built a fence and asked for and received regular police patrols and Streets Department trash pick-ups.

In 1995 housing development plans for the land became public. Neighbors’ legal intervention stopped the development. Defeating a 2003 development plan was more difficult because 23 homes, to be located on top of Cresheim Creek, already had approval from several city agencies. Hundreds of neighbors attended meetings.

WEP became a formal organization during the process of fighting the development plan and built a coalition of neighbors, park and civic groups, and sympathetic public officials and agencies. The group successfully convinced the developers to accept a no-building easement (held by the Chestnut Hill Historical Society.)

After an extensive search for an agency to purchase the land, City Council hearings, petition drives and WEP-sponsored work events, the neglected six acres found a new home under Mayor Nutter’s and PPR’s initiative to add new land to city parks.

The new park has many benefits. A loop trail, built by 65 volunteers during a work day in December, 2013, offers walkers a peaceful destination, improves human, plant and animal life, and brings neighbors, many of whom were unacquainted, closer together.

The story of saving this land and building a park is a model for how to address problems, turn them into opportunities and create positive change. WEP members and friends will continue to improve the park and creek and help inspire and support the next generation of community and environmental activists.

* Reprinted, with permission, from the Friends of the Wissahickon newspaper, summer 2014 issue.