COVID-19 blamed for more crowds, trash at Devil's Pool in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the weather got warmer, Kimberly Benedetto noticed something about her visits to Wissahickon Valley Park: there was more trash.

Now that it's summer, she says the problem has gotten out of hand.

"It's bad," she said, after posting pictures in a Facebook group of what she saw in picnic areas, trails and the Devil's Pool area of the park. The pictures featured everything from food, two bags of garbage and even human waste.

Devin Yastro saw much of the same when he visited areas of the park earlier this week. He also noticed plenty of cars parked illegally along the Wises Mill Rd.

"The amount of cars that were parked there illegally, bottlenecking the road," he said. "(They were) preventing foot traffic, preventing vehicle traffic."

Benedetto decided to organize a clean up with other concerned visitors and the help of fellow visitor Nancy Crescenzo.

"We need more bodies to enforce these rules and regulations," said Crescenzo.

COVID-19 cutbacks have cause there to be fewer, if any, park rangers at Wissahickon on any given day. The group is holding a rally on August 9 to ask for those rangers to be returned to the park.

It comes at a time when the park is seeing a surge in visitors that's higher than typical surges in the summer.

"We are having a bigger season than ever with the COVID-19," said Ruffian Tittmann, Executive Director of Friends of the Wissahickon, a non-profit group whose members serve as stewards of the park. "The impact of people being home, people aren't traveling as much."

That has brought many of them to the park, especially on hot days like we've seen this week. Many of the visitors to Devil's Pool are unaware of one of the biggest rules: swimming is actually not allowed in the area.

"There's no swimming in Philadelphia's rivers and streams and waterways. You don't know what's under the surface, whether it's rocks or trees," said Tittmann.

"We didn't know that you're technically not allowed to swim here," said Sam McReynolds of Haddonfield, New Jersey as he visited the area with his nephews.

Friends of the Wissahickon hopes to remind visitors of that rule as well as the safety rules in the time of coronavirus.

"If I were in a big group, I would wear a mask and that's our recommendation," said Tittmann. "We encourage everyone to wear a mask. You're keeping yourself safe and you're keeping others safe."

Philadelphia Parks and Rec also encourages park visitors to practice social distancing. As for the trash in the area, Friends of the Wissahickon has had groups and individuals volunteering to clean up.

Benedetto says park visitors need to pull their weight and clean up too. She plans to be in the area on Sunday to help anyone who passes by her do just that.

"I'll give each and every one of them a trash bag," she said. "And (I'll) ask them 'if you can carry (the trash) in, then you can carry it out.'"
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