The Wissahickon Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

by Molly Welby
Posted 8/27/21

The Hot Spot program identifies areas suffering from severe human-related impacts that can thrive again with Leave No Trace solutions.

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The Wissahickon Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

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Originally set to take place in the summer of 2020, but postponed due to Covid-19, Friends of the Wissahickon was finally able to host the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics Hot Spot in Wissahickon Valley Park from July 23rd to July 25th. The Park was nominated in 2019 by Tom Rickards, a FOW Trail Ambassador, but the Center opted to postpone all in-person work until 2021.

The Hot Spot program identifies areas suffering from severe human-related impacts that can thrive again with Leave No Trace solutions that are aimed at a healthy and sustainable recovery. LNT has conducted over 100 Hot Spots across 33 states, working to strengthen stewardship efforts by empowering stakeholders, land managers, volunteers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

With more than one million annual visitors, the Park experiences significant wear and tear, “With a lot visitation comes a lot of the evidence of people having visited: trash, evidence of people going off trail, bushwhacking, and those things can have trash and leaving the trail can have a negative impact on both the experience for other visitors and then the overall health of the forest,” Executive Director of Friends of the Wissahickon Ruffian Tittmann said.

The Wissahickon Hot Spot was led by Brice Esplin and Erin Collier, one of the four mobile education teams that travel the country full-time to conduct free, educational workshops. The team partnered with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Let's Go Outdoors, and the Tree House that have a vested interest in keeping The Wissahickon as beautiful as it is.

“A lot more visitors experiencing the outdoors and really realizing that it offers a lot of benefits to us during Covid really allows us an opportunity to have a lot more protectors, have a lot more people who are spreading this collective outdoor ethic to others so that we’re seeing less impacts overall,” Esplin said.

Over the course of the three-day event, 226 people were educated directly. This included park management staff, community members, and visitors. Activities included a multi-site Valley Green cleanup and celebration, which according to Esplin, ended with 48 bags of trash taken from both Devil’s Pool and Magargee dam. Other activities included educational workshops, volunteer service projects, guided walks and engaging community events.

Each training and activity aimed to put some of the “why” behind the LNT Seven Principles, which are listed on their website (lnt.org/why/). Tittmann believes this is an approach that can continue to evolve and be applied and studied and evaluated for effectiveness.

At the conclusion of the Hot Spot, the LNT teams provide an in-depth analysis of what elements of the program worked well and give recommendations for future implementation to the stewardship group. The teams continue to monitor each site they visit and conduct check-ups to track progress and gauge whether a site needs to be revisited.

FOW will be bringing back The All Trails Challenge, an opportunity to get back in touch with the beauty of the park. The challenge, which runs from August 17th to November 30th. encourages everyone to hike, bike, run and ride their way through more than 50 miles of trails in Wissahickon Valley Park. See events or join at fow.org.

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