The Trash Not Taken

Illustration by NARRATOR

Wissahickon's litter problem prompts man to collect it for a year, turning it into a powerful art project

Since moving to Philadelphia from my small Central Pennsylvania hometown in 2000, the single biggest gripe I’ve had with the city is its litter problem. Many anti-litter programs have come and gone—and even exist today—and still, it persists. It was one of the main reasons I moved to considerably cleaner Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 2009.

Before I did, I took one last hike in the Wissahickon, the most scenic 1,800 acres in the Fairmount Park system. I was appalled and disheartened by the graffiti and the litter I saw trailside, in the woods, even around (but not in) the trash cans near trailheads that lead out into the park.

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Getting Their Feet Wet

Rachel Rosenfeld, a citizen scientist, measures phosphate levels for Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association’s Creek Watch program near Valley Green Inn in Fairmount Park. | Photo by Christian Hunold

Volunteers wade in to monitor the Wissahickon

Rachel Rosenfeld crunched her way through the ice near the shore to get to where she could drop her thermometer into the Wissahickon Creek, just upstream from the Valley Green Inn. Fishing it out of the near-freezing water would hurt, but you need measurements throughout the year to draw a complete picture of the Creek. Rosenfeld, along with other volunteers checking 35 sections of the Wissahickon and its tributaries, visits monthly to check on its health, even in the cold months.

You cannot step into the same river or creek twice, which makes it hard to monitor water quality. The flow at any given moment is a mix of rainwater, groundwater and whatever chemicals have been washed in from the land or generated by life in the river. Any water sample you take is a snapshot, but the more snapshots you get, the better you can understand the state of the creek.

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