Philly Pedals

Advocacy / How-to / Mountain / Tips - Safety / Urban Planning

Trails Don’t Build Themselves

Philadelphia Bike Ride

The Cresheim trail is an amazing little nugget of trail I try to get to regularly. It’s one of the few bits of trail in Fairmont Park that all different levels of riders can ride and still find fun and challenging. The builders nailed the flow. Harlan Price,  professional mountain bike racer and cycling skills coach.

The Cresheim Trail is a proposed 8-mile trail that starts in Philadelphia and continues into Montgomery County, connecting the Wissahickon trails to Fort Washington State Park and the Wissahickon Green Ribbon Trail. The first part of that trail is the natural surface loop where I had a chance to join the trail-building crew in September and October.

The entrance to the Cresheim Trail sits at what I used to think was the end of Lincoln Drive, where it runs into Allens Lane. The lesser known Lincoln Drive picks up again on the other side of the trail, ending at Pastorious Park. If you look very closely at the lines on Google Maps, you can see the Lincoln Drive right-of-way etched in the green space; protective developers prevented the road from being completed, leaving us with this ideal setting for a winding path in the woods and a few curbstones visible where the trail crosses the old roadbed.

My first Creisheim Trail workday in September gave me a hands on Trail Building 101 lesson, as we pitched a 12-foot section of trail that had been eroding. We dug out the existing trail section and rebuilt it with carefully placed rocks—three tons of carefully placed rocks. The warm morning turned into a hot afternoon, with six hours of rock hauling and mosquito slapping. At the end of the day, I was amazed at what we had accomplished. In October, another section of trail was rebuilt.

Dan Mercer and John Cassidy work carefully to arrange rocks to rebuild a section of the Cresheim Trail that had been washing out during rainstorms.

Repitched section of the Cresheim Trail at the end of the workday.

Susan Dannenberg is the Board Chair of the Friends of the Cresheim Trail. [In the mid 90s] Friends of the Wissahickon was very concerned about mountain bikers in Fairmount Park in the Wissahickon because it was nationally known as a place to mountain bike. They got a lot of bad feedback partly because of bicycle behavior, but they felt that the bicyclists were eroding the trails and really destroying the park. So they said, ‘Let’s get a study done.  Let’s get a landscape architect in here to study it and when they say they’re ruining the park, then we can say OK we need to ban them.’ The landscape architect came in and saw that some trails were fine, some trails were destroyed, and it had nothing to do with users, it had to do with how the trail was designed initially.

Susan Dannenberg stands by the entrance to her Cresheim Trail, at Lincoln Drive and Allens Lane.

The shape of the Cresheim Trail doesn’t just make it fun to ride, it also allows the trail to remain intact. The blue lines in the map show areas that were closed off to guide users to the red sections, which are more sustainably designed.

The fundamental goal of physical trail design is storm water management: ‘Get the water off the trail,’ according to David Dannenberg, longtime Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW)  board member who has been instrumental in leading the Sustainable Trails Initiative (STI). One characteristic of a poorly built trail is following the fall line: the shortest route down a hill, the same path that water flows. Fall line trails will erode quickly, making them unsafe and defeating the original purpose of creating Fairmount Park: protecting our water supply.

David Dannenberg stands next to a section of trail blocked off during the October Cresheim Trail workday. The trail was running along the fall line.

David, who has been instrumental in leading the Sustainable Trails Initiative (STI), says, We are building trails that are both physically and socially sustainable. By this we mean that the trails will, with minimal maintenance withstand the rigors of weather and intended use without degradation to the trail or the surrounding land.

Mel Strieb and Bob Simon secure jute along the trail to prevent erosion.

David continues by noting, the fundamental precept of social trail building — ‘user management’ — is that the primary modulator of behavior is design—whether people will ride or walk or run quickly or slowly, encounter one another with comfort or discomfort, have their gaze drawn to the world around them or to the tread below them, indeed whether they will tend to stay on or stray off of the trail—is the design of the trail itself. It is the happiest of coincidences that the elements of good physical design for storm water management generally dovetail with the elements of good social design for optimal user experiences.

The October workday crew takes a well-deserved lunch break.

The author’s bike basks in the beauty of the Cresheim Trail, grateful that it didn’t have to do any of the work.

Get involved:

Visit the Cresheim Trail website and follow the Friends of the Cresheim Trail on Facebook. Contact FoCT at [email protected] Workdays are generally the third Saturday of each month.

Volunteer for other projects along the Wissahickon, by going to the FOW  volunteer page.

Get out and ride the Cresheim Trail! This Strava link shows you a ride I did starting a little before the trail and then making my way back to Forbidden Drive.

Photos by David Dannenberg and Steve Taylor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>