Wissahickon Valley Park: Philly’s Hidden Trails

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Courtesy of Wesley Celestino: Including: Peter Hong, Kelly Sheaffer, Julie Baumeister, Britt Miller, Alex Dominy, Paul Schmidt, Cassandra Strawser, Craig Polak, David Josephson, Mariana Morris Bergerson, Kristen Rosser and Peter Riccardi

 

Not but 10 miles from center city lies a natural oasis hidden within Philadelphia’s urban landscape. Measuring almost seven miles in length and covered by untouched and ancient woods, Wissahickon valley is not something one would expect to find so close to a metropolitan area. If it weren’t for a constant hum of distant roadways, one standing within the park would have no other indication that they were in fact within one of the largest cities in America. Wedged in-between the neighborhoods of Manayunk and Chestnut Hill, the park is intersected by over 50 miles of maintained trails, many of which transverse natural obstacles and steep hills.

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Upon entering the park, it is clear that it’s a favorite among many outdoors enthusiasts.  My Friend, Peter Riccardi, and I fortunately got the chance to run with one of the parks running clubs, Chasing Trail during an unusually warm Decemberday. With the temperatures hanging in the high 60’s and a light overcast, the group set off through the beautiful park at an average pace of 9 min/mile. This may sound slow but considering the steep inclines and declines, it is a difficult pace to maintain. Even though the day’s run totaled in only a distance of about 5 miles, I find my legs numb with fatigue around four miles.

“Trail running takes a lot of its practice, especially downhills,” says Wesley Celestino, one of the founders of the group, Chasing Trail. “But you eventually get more efficient.”

As a runner acclimated to training on flat roads I come to learn that trail running is entirely different beast all together. Wesley jokes that safety falls somewhere around 3rd on the list of the clubs priorities. And I soon learned, when it comes to conquering the downhills a certain degree of recklessness is required. Watching the clubs more experienced runners careen down steep hills covered in jagged rocks and roots I slowly realize why.

“Trail running can be intimating,” Wesley points, “but we’re good pretty good towards new members.” Wesley highlights the fact that some of the runners more familiar with the parks layout make an effort to make sure newer runners don’t get lost. And from what I recognize, the club is devoid of judgement based on ability, with only a mutual love for tail running.

Not only is the park host to a number of out-doors clubs, it also hosts a number of running events. One notable event is the Wissahickon Trail Classic. The race is a 10k that winds through some of the park many single-track trails and was set up in order to raise many for the multiple organizations that help maintain the park.

Another one that caught my attention is the unofficial four corners run. As Wesley describes, and as the name implies, the run takes runners through a course that touches all four corners of the park. The course, resembling a figure eight, takes runners over 20 miles of trails, and over 2,000 feet in elevation change. Running 20 miles on flat road can be a challenge with in itself. But I can’t image doing such a distance over rocky terrain.

If I had to guess which group within the running community to be the most elitist or cliquish, I might have guessed it to be trail runners. However, with the runners I had the privilege of running with I found this to wholly untrue. They were congenial and overall acceptation of the most inexperienced runners.


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