Kathy Paulmier grew up playing touch football in Wister Woods Park. As an adult, this self-proclaimed “bush-whacker” often follows deer trails as she pushes her way through the overgrown forest so she can fully appreciate what she calls “a tree museum,” a wide variety of enormous trees including beech, tulip, and different types of oak. She’s enjoyed gatherings at what locals call the “family reunion field” and seen countless groups picnic here.
But she’s also noticed a few things that concern her. The forest is being overwhelmed by invasive vines and an ever-growing amount of poison ivy. Trash can pile up on Belfield Avenue and other park borders. While the park’s sports fields and open spaces are well-loved, the woods are inaccessible to many because there are no designated paths or trail markers.
She hopes to address those issues, and more, with the newly founded Friends of Wister Woods. The group recently joined the Park Friends Network, which is made up of over 130 community-based groups registered with the city who volunteer their time to host park clean-ups, plan events and activities in their park, and advocate for improvements. The Friends of Wister Woods group will host its first public event on May 13 as part of Love Your Park Week, a joint program of the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. Kathy and other park lovers will be removing trash from the area surrounding the “family reunion field,” near Belfield Avenue and Lindley Street, from 10 am to 1 pm.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful area that has so much potential,” says Kathy, 62. “It just needs some TLC.”
Wister Woods sprawls mostly in eastern Germantown. Its neighbors include LaSalle University to the north, Woodford Tennis Club to the west, Central High School to the east, and the Nicetown/Tioga neighborhood to the south.
The park occupies land donated to the city by Frances Anne Wister. Wister was the long-time Vice President of the Women’s Civic Club of Philadelphia, a group that helped replace horse-drawn carriages with trolleys and brought street lighting to the city.
Wister also founded the Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, the first historic preservation group of its kind, credited with saving Powel House and Grumblethorpe from demolition. Samuel Powel was the last Mayor of Philadelphia under British rule who supported the American Revolution. Grumblethorpe was the Wister family home for more than 160 years.
Kathy says the Friends Wister Woods’ first order of business was officially establishing itself, and it now has about a dozen members. The group’s mission is to preserve the Wister Woods greenspace as a public park for the citizens of the City of Philadelphia, through coordinating local stewardship efforts, increasing awareness and appreciation, consolidating information, and organizing resources available to the Wister Woods.
Their initial efforts will involve growing membership, creating a visible, looped hiking trail, and removing litter and short dumps.
After that, she’s not sure what programming the Friends group will offer, but she knows this is a good starting point.
“I do know the forest is worth preserving and I think people would be very happy to get in there,” Kathy says. “This area has a rich, well-documented history.”