Eye-level with the Schuylkill, you’ll walk the same underground paths as a royal family and Olympic swimmers during a behind-the-scenes look at one of Philadelphia’s first tourist destinations. Hear about this landmark that pioneered engineering, tourism, and environmental awareness in Philadelphia.
This is a hard-hat tour, and may not be accessible for all of our visitors. Sturdy closed-toe shoes are strongly recommended.
Learn about the Fairmount Water Works, one of Philadelphia’s first tourist attractions, and cruise the Schuylkill for a new perspective on sites along this historic river. After a brief tour of the Fairmount Water Works, stroll through the beautifully landscaped South Garden, and along the Schuylkill Banks for a 1.5 mile walk to the Walnut Street dock to board a boat for a 1-hour narrated cruise.
Small Group Tours (not offered at this time)
The following off-site tours, offered to groups of 6-15 people, explore the past, present, and future impact of this national historic landmark and the surrounding watershed.
Hills of the Wissahickon
(This is a two-hour, three-mile loop hike over trails, roads, and some hills. Wear sturdy shoes or hiking sandals. Ages 8+ are welcome. Maximum group size is 15.) Join local Roxborough resident and Fairmount Water Works environmental educator Sandy Sorlien as we tromp the wooded valley of the Wissahickon and Monoshone Creeks. We’ll learn the history, engineering, and ecology of several special sites. First we’ll walk downhill through the forest overlooking Forbidden Drive along the “Wiss”. Your guide will put all these sites into a context of the larger Schuylkill River watershed and the urban water use cycle. We will visit the interceptor sewer, RittenhouseTown, and Saylor Grove constructed wetland.
Falling Waters of the Schuylkill (Offered in April, October, & November)
Choose from one of these fascinating Schuylkill River natural and historic sites and we will customize a walking tour for your group. Learn about the connection of the original Schuylkill Navigation dams with the urban water cycle locally, and with the City of Philadelphia’s landmark water system. See firsthand the thriving ecology of Pennsylvania’s River of the Year for 2014, as we look for birds, turtles and fish. Several dams have fishways (fish ladders) that have enabled the return of the shad every spring. Your guide is watershed educator, urban planner, river photographer and (intermediate) birder Sandy Sorlien, from the Fairmount Water Works.
Flat Rock Dam #31 and Lock 68, Shawmont – You may know the Manayunk Canal behind Main Street, but what about the other end? This walk centers on the Shawmont (Philadelphia) side of Flat Rock Dam, which was originally constructed in 1818. Sites include the historic Shawmont train station, Schuylkill River Trail, former Roxborough Pumping Station, a hidden fountain, and ruins of Lock 68. The lock and its sluice house are at the head one of only two remaining “watered” canal reaches from the 19th century Schuylkill Navigation system. The Flat Rock Dam Fishway is visible across the river, and new native trees, transit-oriented development, and birds and turtles adorn the canal. Everything reflects on the present and future of Philadelphia’s water supply, Schuylkill watershed health, and riverfront recreation. Packed dirt and gravel surfaces.
Norristown Dam #29 and Fishway, Bridgeport – This tour typically begins in Norristown on the Schuylkill River Trail near the Drinking Water Treatment Plant and crosses the Dekalb Street Bridge to the Norristown Dam Fishway and Upper Merion Boathouse in Bridgeport. For a longer walk, we can begin at Riverfront Park in Norristown. We’ll have a beautiful view from the bridge of the dam and Barbadoes Island, and we’re likely to see waterfowl and herons. Entirely paved surfaces.
Black Rock Dam #26 and Sanctuary, Phoenixville, and Lock 60, Mont Clare – The Black Rock Sanctuary, a beautiful riverfront park, was once a basin for settling coal silt out of the Schuylkill. The Sanctuary contains acres of wetlands, woodlands and meadows and is dedicated to wildlife habitat and public use. Tour options include walking a circuit above the Black Rock Dam while learning about its role in the Schuylkill Project environmental cleanup of the 1940s. On the Mont Clare side of the river is Schuylkill Canal Park, featuring the restored Lock 60, 1836 locktender’s house, and Oakes Reach Canal. We can view the Black Rock fishway from the spillway abutment. Mostly paved surfaces.
Pawlings Dam #27 and Walnut Hill Impoundment Basin 21 – This new tour is for hikers, not strollers. We will walk part of the River Trail in the north section of Valley Forge Park, stopping to see the hidden ruins of Pawlings Dam of the Schuylkill Navigation, constructed in 1838. Next we do a loop across and atop the Impoundment Basin berm. Similar to Black Rock Sanctuary but untamed, Basin 21 was used to store coal silt after it was dredged from the river in a massive government cleanup called the Schuylkill Project, 1947-51. The Basin attracts wetland bird species. A fascinating terrain with several historic ruins. The path is mostly flat but parts may be muddy or overgrown.