The study is part of an overall master plan that is considering all existing conditions at the park, including zoning, flood plains, and the state of all its facilities.
Friends of the Wissahickon is taking a close look at restroom needs for the popular park as part of its next phase for infrastructure improvements.
Complaints about the condition of the sparse and currently overused restrooms are among the top concerns of park users, according to a survey that the friends group has been conducting both online and in person at key park entrances. Trail counters were installed in April, and the group has been counting the number of visitors in the Park since May.
“Our goal is accessible, clean, and open park restrooms for every visitor when they visit the Wissahickon.” said Ruffian Tittmann, FOW’s Executive Director. “This survey is the first step in understanding where the demand for restrooms is greatest and what resources we need to bring to the problem.”
The study is part of an overall master plan that is considering all existing conditions at the park, including zoning, flood plains, and the state of all its facilities. The planning project is being conducted by landscape architects in Tittman and Rosa Mannion of NV5, in partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation. It will help FOW plan projects over the next ten years and secure needed funding for restrooms and operations staff.
The planning process is largely supported by a grant from the PA Dept of Planning and Natural Resources. A private donor is providing matching funds.
Currently, there are a total of nine restrooms throughout the park, with 15 toilets and five urinals, only three of which are open year-round: the one at Kitchens Lane, a second at the Tree House at the Wissahickon Environmental Center, and the third are the public rooms at Valley Green Inn. The survey suggests these three are used very much.
Some restrooms are only open seasonally, including the ones at Blue Bell Pavilion and Pachella Pavilion. Some are closed due to disrepair: David P. Montgomery (Daisy) Field, Rex Avenue Restroom and Houston Recreation Center. There is a restroom at Cedar House Café that is only open to café patrons.
The location of potential new facilities will depend on the availability of a water supply and adequate drainage. Also, the planning team is limited by how much impervious surface they can add.
Potential new locations most likely to be built in the early stages of the plan include near Blue Stone Bridge, the parking lot at Ten Box, or the Warming Shed and Upper Parking Lot at Valley Green. Favored new locations are all near the parking lots and the most-used entrances. All would be open year-round, ADA-compliant, and have water. The 2011 count was used as a baseline.
A park traffic monitoring program began in April, in combination with the survey, to determine where visitors would consider the most logical locations.
The 2021 survey garnered more than a thousand online responses, and another 90 in person. More than half of frequent park visitors live nearby, and more than 60 percent make year-round visits, twice or more a week, averaging about four hours each time. Of those surveyed, 25 percent said they always need a restroom, 38 percent said the sometimes new one. Overall, 75 percent report high satisfaction with the park overall, but only 4 percent say they are satisfied with the restrooms.
It also shows that the park's most popular entrances were at Bells Mill Road, Valley Green Inn, and the Blue Stone Bridge at Forbidden Drive. In 2011, the most popular entrances were Northwestern Avenue and Blue Stone Bridge.
Porta-Potties might be considered for temporary periods, but the servicing requirements make them a poor choice for a long-term solution. But they can be helpful for short-term use during events or holiday traffic.
“We’re looking at a much longer time horizon achieving full bathroom outfitting,” said Tittman. “This is a plan that will inform future work as we dive deeper into site-specific planning, allowing us to seek out the funding that may be available at the state or federal level to bring amenities to the park.”
There is still time to participate in the survey at wikimapping.com/park-master-plan-public-input.html
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