That Old Man Creek… It just keeps flowing

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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 TTFwa­ter­ for in­form­a­tion about the Tookany/Ta­cony-Frank­ford Wa­ter­shed Part­ner­ship.

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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