For over half a century, the mission of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association has been to preserve open space, working farms, and disappearing wildlife habitat in an effort to ensure the continued environmental quality and beauty of the Wissahickon Creek. Protecting the land that surrounds the Wissahickon and its springheads, tributaries and wetlands is critical to this mission. WVWA acquires these properties through conservation easements, fee acquisition and landowner donation. Through these rare opportunities, we have preserved roughly 1,300 acres of open space in the watershed, and developed a chain of nature preserves. They are now actively managed to improve wildlife habitat for as many species of fauna and flora which are present, all of which play an integral role in a healthy ecosystem and the beauty of the landscape.
WVWA continues to expand our system of trails, allowing the public to access and enjoy the natural beauty of the watershed. In 2014, the last major gap in the Green Ribbon Trail was closed through the acquisition of a trail easement that allows the trail to go along the edge of the Cedarbrook Country Club. Our protection of the riparian buffer along the Wissahickon Creek with a continuous rustic trail is a symbol of our conservation success amid the intense urban and suburban development of southern Montgomery County. The extension of the Green Ribbon Trail north of Sumneytown Pike in Upper Gwynedd Township may create additional opportunities to preserve open space and restore wildlife habitat.
With the acquisition of the Piszek Preserve in 2014, the WVWA added another 33 acres to our protected lands, and once again demonstrated that our Watershed is our common ground—land worth preserving. In the spring and fall of 2015, WVWA will be planting native vegetation on the Piszek preserve as part of our Serve the Preserve volunteer days, with support from TreeVitalize and the Adopt-a-Tree program. This will be the first stage in the planned restoration of the sycamore-box-elder floodplain community that exists on the property along the Sandy Run, which was previously managed as turf grass. An estimated 300 trees and shrubs will be planted, along with a native, herbaceous seed mix, which will help prevent the spread of non-native plants.
In 2014, the WVWA updated the Open Space Plan for the first time since the 1990s. This Plan will help WVWA to continue to acquire properties with significant wildlife habitats in the watershed and persuade municipalities and Montgomery County to support our efforts.
Suburban Wilderness: Research, Restore, Re-wild!
As farmland and forest retreated to sprawling residential neighborhoods, office parks and shopping complexes, the preserved lands of the WVWA become the last refuges of wildlife in Montgomery County within the highly suburbanized southeastern Piedmont region of Pennsylvania. The importance of maintaining and restoring biological diversity becomes even greater as these habitats are lost and the remaining natural areas are on the brink.
The WVWA is committed to using science in primary source data collection to determine the relative health of our natural heritage in the Wissahickon Creek watershed. Understanding the existing trends of surviving fauna and flora with comparison to historical references is key to determining the appropriate plant communities needed to recreate and maintain the various habitats being lost. To that end, botanical, herpetological and entomological studies have been completed, and a study of the mammal community will be conducted in 2015. These studies provide crucial baseline inventories of the plants and animals of the preserves and nearby protected wildlife habitat. To view our completed Natural Resource Inventories, click here.
The WVWA will use this data to draft management plans tailored for each of the preserves to reflect their specific environments, challenges and opportunities for ecological restoration. With these inventories and expert consultation, the staff can pinpoint missing plant and animal species and create plans, using ecological restoration principles, to bring these species back, with a focus on rare, threatened or endangered plant and wildlife species of the Piedmont region. The resulting work will enrich the suburban wilderness of the WVWA, improve the natural environment, and increase the beauty of the preserves for all to enjoy.
Wissahickon from the Top
An important overall approach to improving the water quality of the Wissahickon Valley watershed is to address the main issues of degradation at the headwaters of the Wissahickon Creek. The area encompassing the headwaters includes Montgomery and Upper Gwynedd Townships, and the Boroughs of North Wales and Lansdale. Here, the Wissahickon Creek and nearby tributaries suffer from a depleted ground aquifer and intermittent surface water.
A primary concern is excessive storm water, the effects of which are erosion, nutrient overload and sedimentation throughout the system. Opportunities to restore wetlands, floodplains and riparian corridors will be an important focus in engaging local municipalities. The stewardship department continues to partner with municipalities to identify problematic areas, such as non-functioning storm water basins and eroding stream banks, and work together to find collaborative solutions that provide cumulative benefits throughout the watershed.
WVWA is committed to protecting the land, and through our Conservation Resources Program, we hope to help the species dependent upon the habitats under our care to flourish, so that both they, and we, can enjoy all that the natural world has to offer. We hope that those living in the watershed will take advantage of the trails we create and maintain, in order to see and take part in the beauty offered by the creeks, meadows, woods and wildlife right outside our doors.