'Wissaheroes' empowered to clean trash at Wissahickon Valley Park

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "I grew up around this park," said Aaron Aleiner, "And I was a little dismayed to find some of these beautiful areas covered in trash."

A protected green space since the 1800s, Wissahickon Valley Park is home to rolling waterways and abundant nature. Within it lies Historic Rittenhouse Town, once home to the first paper mill created in America. Although these mills ceased operation over a century ago, the grounds are ironically littered with discarded paper products.

"If you live in Northwest Philadelphia, and you throw trash into the creek, you're throwing trash into your own water supply," said Aleiner. "Through the Wissahero program, I was able to find a community of people really dedicated to making sure this is a clean and beautiful place."

The initiative began last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Everybody was looking for an outdoor space to go to," said Shawn Green, Volunteer Manager with Friends of the Wissahickon. "So, we had a huge increase in usership and not enough resources to take care of it."

That's where hundreds of heroes stepped in.

"We want to encourage people to head out into the park and clean up on their own," said Green.

Friends of the Wissahickon made it easy to do that. Volunteers can find instructions on the Wissahero website. Additionally, they can stop by two small businesses within the park, The Cedars House and Paper Trail Bike Cafe. Both establishments carry free volunteer kits with gloves, trash bags, and a mask to get started.

"320 individuals take part in this, removing over 10,000 pounds of trash," said Green. "It's been really really inspiring and we're looking forward to seeing this grow."

Wissahero Aleiner says it's up to the community to make the initiative truly blossom.

"If you think to yourself, someone should do something about that, well, the someone is you and me, right?" he asked.

To learn more about Wissaheroes and Friends of the Wissahickon, visit their website.

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