Devil’s Pool, a hidden swimming hole tucked away from the clamor of Philadelphia city life in the Wissahickon, is a favorite spot of more roguish forest-lovers who won’t be deterred by a few “no swimming” signs. But while swimming there was tolerated despite being frowned upon, it’s recently spiked in popularity and as a background site for Instagram posts. That’s a problem, as its increasing notoriety is drawing more visitors each weekend than the tiny rock face on the water can handle, non-profit park stewards say.
“Although there are many issues to tackle at [Devil’s Pool], this is intended to do just one thing: redirect the large volume of weekend visitors to areas of the park where EMS access is more readily available,” Maura McCarthy, executive director of the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), wrote in a Facebook post on Aug. 16.”To truly address the issues at the Pool and ensure it’s safe for the volume of users who are coming, we (FOW and the city) will need to invest some serious dollars in infrastructure – cell service, bridges, boardwalks, toilets, water fountains, etc. this will cost several million dollars.”
The FOW cares for Wissahickon Park, a huge watershed and forest system stretching over 1,800 acres through Northwest Philadelphia with 50 miles of trails. They say the tiny watering hole has been attracting 400 people a day, and up to 1,200 at particularly popular times, like the 4th of July.
They are part of the Devil’s Pool Task Force which decided to close the Pool for the remaining six weekends of the weekend, starting the weekend of Aug. 18. Philly police and park rangers will close the section of trail that runs past the pool. Hikers will not be able to travel to Valley Green Inn from Livezey Trail, but will have to enter from the Valley Green Road side.
Danger, poop at Devil’s Pool
The Pool has been popular for years, but also reputedly dangerous due to its allure to reckless swimmers for high dives and jumping off of nearby bridges into the water. Its isolated location mean cell phone service is poor and people suffering injuries may be unable to call 911, although no swimming-related accidents have been recently reported at Devil’s Pool.
But McCarthy also told PlanPhilly the water is contaminated by wastewater treatment plants and “there’s poop in the water.” There’s also a risk for contamination from pollution, fertilizers and litter in the watershed.
FOW says the Wissahickon is “never safe to swim” and urges local to go to the 70-plus public outdoor and indoor swimming pools Philadelphia is home to, more than most large cities. Some have questioned whether crystal-clear water at Devil’s Pool is actually contaminated, since it is fed by the Cresheim Creek, which is not fed by waterways that are picking up waste. Poop or no, the hundreds of pounds of garbage and recycling littered around Devil’s Pool by selfish swimmers for FOW volunteers to clean up is definitely one source of contamination to the water.
Long-term solutions to overcrowding and pollution on this popular trail will not be easy to find, but FOW said it is working on funding plans to address the issues.
“This is a minor closure of four trails over six weekends, intended to do one small thing – not solve all the problems in the world,” McCarthy wrote in her announcement. “The Devil’s Pool Task Force does not consider this closure ‘the solution’ – it’s a stopgap for the next few weeks to get us through the end of the season while more lasting solutions that preserve the site and public use are discussed.”
The name Devil’s Pool is believed to have been given to the unique rock outcropping that appeals to swimmers by the Lenape Indians.