Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wissahickon Part 2: Forbidden Drive

Bell's Mill Road Bridge, viewed upstream
After Kali and I finished exploring Houston Meadows (previous post), which is located on a high, flat bluff above Wissahickon Creek, we descended the steep valley slope to the stream.  An old carriage road parallels the western bank of the creek for seven miles.  Because vehicles are prohibited from using the old road, it is called Forbidden Drive.  Forbidden Drive is one of the most heavily used recreational amenities in the city, with walkers, runners, equestrians, and bicyclists all mixed together in a generally congenial stew. 
Wissahickon Creek downstream of Bell's Mill Bridge
The land that is now Wissahickon Valley Park was a colonial industrial valley with mills and roads throughout.  The city bought the land in the late 19th century because Wissahickon Creek empties into the Schuylkill River just upstream of the city's drinking water intake, so the city wanted to try to preserve water quality in the Wissahickon and the receiving stream.  Nearly all vestiges of the industrial heritage are gone, but many of the stone ruins and the bridges that bore roads over the creek remain.
Blue wood aster (Aster cordifolius) and Wreath goldenrod (Solidago caesia) on the wooded streambank
Forested slope with denuded understory
White-tailed deer have been very abundant in the park.  As a result, nearly all of the forest understory is gone, and few sapling tress are growing to replace the old trees when they die.  For the last decade, the city has hired sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cull the herd.  The sharpshooters hunt at night over bait, and the venison is donated to local food banks.  Nevertheless, animal rights group protests are a constant thorn in the city's side over this issue.  The culling has significantly reduced the number of deer, and the forest has begun to recover in places.
Parasitic beech-drops (Epifagus virginiana) in a patch of sunlight
One of the reasons that the Wissahickon is so popular is because it is very scenic.  The creek has cut a deep gorge though very hard rock, so the valley slopes are steep with lots of scenic boulders and bedrock exposed.  Because of the steepness, only one old road crosses the valley directly (Bell's Mill Road, the picture at the head of this post), and few roads penetrate down to Forbidden Drive.  Rex Avenue (image below) is one of those roads that descends from the eastern side of the valley and terminates at Forbidden Drive.
Rex Avenue Bridge
Old park guardhouse along Forbidden Drive
Covered bridge, the only one in Philadelphia
Invasive Japanese angelica-tree (Aralia elata), left, and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)
Wissahickon Creek rapid
Forbidden Drive
Forbidden Drive is not one of Kali's favorite walks because it is dark and claustrophobic; she much prefers the sun and openness of Houston Meadows.  However, I like the views of the creek and the general sense of community among the users.


robin andrea said...

It is beautiful there and quite an interesting history. It is a shame about the over population of deer and their destructive ways. Sure would be nice if the herd could be culled by mountain lions and other predators. I like that way the best! Looks like you and Kali had a wonderful walk there, and I enjoyed it vicariously as well.

Mark P said...

You all have so many neat places nearby. It would be a fairly long drive to get to anything like that around here, although there are some pretty nice places on the Berry College campus that are almost right next door to us. We need to visit and take some pictures there. Thanks for the inspiration!

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: I'd like to invite mountain lions and black bears back into the habitat to keep the deer numbers down, but that's not likely to happen. Wait! A black bear actually was photographed in the Wissahickon earlier this year. The photographer followed the bear until it crossed the creek and followed a tributary upstream. It was not seen again thereafter; no one knows where it came from, where it went or what became of it. I felt really sorry for the bear; there was really nowhere for it to go, ultimately. Maybe it's happily munching on venison in some of the more remote parts of the park (that that's highly unlikely).

Scott said...

Mark: In reality, Kali and I do have a lot of options for recreation in the outdoors around us, but most are (1) very popular with crowds and/or (2) places we've visited so frequently we don't feel compelled to visit very often. I'd love to really "get away" to some remote areas, but that involves a drive of at least 1-1/2 hours, so we content ourselves mostly with these urban oases. Please do photograph the campus and share with us.