On Saturday, April 27, volunteers from First Niagara Bank collected man-made refuse from the shores of the Wissahickon Creek amid the roar of traffic from Pennsylvania Turnpike. Further down the Creek, employees of Dow Chemical and Russell Roofing collected trash from both sides of the Wissahickon as it flows through Fort Washington State Park. They were some of the hundreds of volunteers who participated in the 43rd annual Creek Clean Up sponsored by the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association and the Friends of the Wissahickon. During a picnic lunch in Fort Washington State Park the proud volunteers exchanged war stories in the name of Earth Day.
Just a few miles away, Comcast volunteers were erecting fencing for a new habitat restoration project to prevent deer from eating the newly planted native vegetation. Still other Comcast employees and families were feverishly planting native wildflowers in a brand new shade woodland garden at the Four Mills Reserve.
Removing hundreds of pounds of garbage and other debris is an annual ritual. Despite that, there is genuine progress made every year. There are fewer shopping carts, tires and couches than ever before. The Wissahickon and its tributaries are no longer choked by plastic floatables, ubiquitous symbols of our throwaway society. Volunteers actually claim that there is less stuff to pick up, living up to the billing, “Think globally, and act locally.”
The years of habitat restoration are yielding more signs of an improving environment. For the first time in memory, a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks, a regionally rare species, attempted to nest in the 55-acre Four Mills Reserve just adjacent to the urban core of Ambler Borough. With a subtle trailhead behind the CVS store in Whitemarsh Township, the Willow Lake Preserve has become a haven of migratory songbirds after years of habitat improvement, thanks to the stewardship staff of the WVWA. A Yellow-breasted Chat was heard at the Armentrout Preserve, a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers visited the Willow Lake Preserve and a seldom seen Chestnut-sided Warbler is singing daily from the Four Mills Reserve; all of these species typically disappear where suburbia changes the landscape.
The Four Mills Reserve, the home offices of the WVWA, is the hub of a series of initiatives intended to improve wildlife habitat as we launch the new Our Suburban Wilderness program. WVWA replanted species of shrubs and trees that are endangered or extinct in Pennsylvania or Montgomery County according to the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Database. By erecting a deer exclosure, we are able to protect these plants and possibly bring them back to our Watershed. Highbush Cranberry, Virginia Sweetspire and Possum Haw, among other missing species, were planted in their native habitat - a riparian forest. A shaded woodland garden was created as a demonstration project to show the public how native wildflowers can be planted in their garden. The benefits of these projects are multiple. Insects, bees and hummingbirds will congregate to the nectar on flowers. Butterflies will use some of the wildflowers as host plants to lay eggs for emerging caterpillars to feed off the leaves as food!
This feel-good story is played out every year for the sake of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed not just in the name of Earth Day. WVWA’s wonderful legacy of preserving the open space, protecting our natural resources and improving the water quality of the Wissahickon Creek is a tribute to the members, volunteers, supporters and communities of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association. They help to make our work successful 365 days a year. They are the catalyst for environmental change!