At one time, Philadelphia had at least nine different open-air streams that flowed into the Delaware River between the Pennypack Creek and the Schuylkill River.
Now there’s only one, the Frankford Creek, which has survived centuries of urban development, pollution and other harmful human intervention to continue providing folks in the Lower Northeast with a rare slice of natural beauty amid the concrete jungle.
Historical waterways like Wissinoming Creek, Cohocksink Creek, Dock Creek and Shackaminsing Creek have been filled, paved over or re-routed to make way for streets, homes and industry.
Even the Frankford Creek’s own tributary, the Wingohocking Creek, is no longer visible from surface-level, its channel having long ago been converted into an underground storm sewer.
But the Frankford has somehow managed to endure along with its other primary tributary, the Tacony Creek — or “Tookany” as the stream is formally called on the Montgomery County side of the city line.
Since 2005, one non-profit organization has been dedicated to ensuring that the so-called Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed doesn’t suffer the same fate as its sister streams.
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In recent months, the TTF Watershed Partnership has expended its community outreach efforts to educate the public about healthy water systems and to encourage community involvement in preserving the natural character of the watershed.
“We’re helping facilitate education so people understand [healthy streams] and we assist the water department and city agencies in getting the word out,” said Julie Slavet, executive director of the partnership.
This Saturday, the partnership will host its third and final “Love Your Watershed” day of the fall season. The free public environmental fair will be held on the Thomas Scattergood Foundation portion of the creek valley adjacent to Friends Hospital, 4641 Roosevelt Blvd.
Those who attend can sign up for a free rain detention barrel or downspout planter and learn how the devices promote healthy streams. They can go on a free guided bird walk or make “eco-cards” and decorations for the holidays.
There will be kids activities, including an appearance by Teddie, the Philadelphia Water Department spokesdog.
Visitors will also get to enjoy hot cocoa and snacks and learn about ongoing projects in Tacony Creek Park.
“What we want to do is get people to connect storm water management with what they do at home,” Slavet said.
In an urban environment, the health of a stream depends directly on the people in the community surrounding it.
“Urban streams have to deal with a lot of things that other streams don’t,” said Ashley Schmid, the partnership’s outreach and education coordinator.
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Schmid, a Lawndale native and University of Pittsburgh graduate. has been involved with the partnership since August 2009, when she signed on as part of the AmeriCorps VISTA national service program. Slavet, a Boston native, spent six years as district director for U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-13th dist.) before joining TTF partnership in July.
Specifically and predictably, Schmid explained, urban streams are subject to a lot more littering and short dumping than their rural counterparts. And they tend to be at greater risk from residential and commercial wastewater, along with contaminated storm water.
Storm water tends to flow more rapidly and in greater volume in urban streams because of all the paved, impermeable ground that surrounds them. This increases the risks of flash flooding and excessive erosion.
Ultimately, the flora and fauna of a stream will pay the price, Schmid said.
In 2000, the Philadelphia Water Department and Pennsylvania Environmental Council teamed with municipal agencies and other stakeholders in the suburbs to coordinate stream preservation efforts.
They created watershed partnerships for each of the city’s five principal Delaware River feeders: the Poquessing Creek, Pennypack Creek, Frankford Creek, Schuylkill River and Cobbs Creek.
“[Philadelphia is] at the bottom of those creeks that all start in other municipalities,” Schmid said.
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On modern maps, the Tacony and Frankford creeks appear as a single body of water. But technically, the Tacony ends at the Juniata Golf Course, where it merges with the sewer line formerly known as the Wingohocking Creek. The Frankford Creek begins at that convergence and ends at the Delaware River.
The TTF partnership remained a public entity until 2005, when it became the first among the five original partnerships to incorporate itself as a non-profit with the support of the water department.
The partnership continues to receive a large portion of its funding from the water department through contract services, but private contributions to the partnership are accepted and tax deductible.
Agencies now involved in the partnership include Cheltenham, Abington and Springfield townships; Jenkintown and Rockledge boroughs; Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation; and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. There are representatives from the mayor’s office, City Council, the City Planning Commission, PECO, SEPTA and several other entities.
Much of the organization’s recent efforts have been focused in the area of the Friends Hospital grounds on a portion of the Tacony Creek known as the Whitaker Avenue Restoration Site. About two years ago, Schwartz helped obtain public funding through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild a 2,200-foot length of the winding creek channel, roughly between Whitaker Avenue and Fishers Lane.
As part of the project, crews reconstructed and reinforced the stream banks, using large rocks, natural mesh and other devices to protect and secure the soil, even in harsh storm conditions.
They manipulated the stream bed to create faster-moving sections and calmer pool areas for the benefit of native fish and aquatic species. They repaired portions of the interceptor main that runs parallel with the creek and is designed to collect raw storm water before it drains into the stream.
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Since the completion of that project, the TTF partnership has stepped its programming into high gear. At first, the group tried to organize some volunteer cleanup events. The first one occurred in April. Results were mixed and somewhat discouraging.
“It became kind of a barrier having a group of volunteers come and pick up a bunch of trash, then [asking them] to come back a couple of months later and pick up new trash from the same area,” Schmid said.
Water Department crews have been keeping the restoration site clean since then. Meanwhile, Slavet and Schmid have shifted into prevention and education mode with the monthly environmental fairs.
They’ve been drawing between 25 and 40 people, a mix of local residents, community leaders, elected officials and a few environmental advocates from outside the neighborhood.
In the future, Schmid and Slavet hope to do tree plantings and create a so-called rain garden — which they describe as a water detention basin with flowering plants.
“I think we want to provide people with a lot of things that they’d really enjoy,” Schmid said.
“If people say, ‘We really liked the bird walk and we’d like to do it again in the spring,’ then we will,” Slavet aid. ••
Visit TTFwatershed.org for information about the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership.
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org