Vine Creek     Watershed 

The Friends of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, the Lower Merion Conservancy and the SJU Institute for Environmental Stewardship are collaborating on a number of projects to increase awareness about the challenges of managing stormwater in our developed landscape. Projects include educational events for trail neighbors and other homeowners as well as implementation of projects along the trail that will ameliorate the negative effects of excess stormwater runoff. 

A kickoff event on May 23, 2021 resulted in the development of resources that are still available on this site and in educational signage along the trail. You can scroll down to see much of the information developed as part of that event. 

Beginning in the fall of 2022, a grant to the Lower Merion Conservancy from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund is helping to improve stormwater quality as well as availability of resources for wildlife.  More information about this project is available on the LMC website and also on other pages on this site

In May of 2024 a second big watershed event in collaboration with the Lower Merion Conservancy and other partners is planned. 

A watershed is an area of land that channels water into a stream, river, lake or ocean.  Watersheds form what is called a nested hierarchy; Vine Creek is in the Schuylkill River watershed, which is in the Delaware River Watershed, and so on.  

From the Barmouth trailhead to the Connelly Spur the gravel trail meanders along Vine Creek and this is the part of the watershed familiar to most people.  The old stone bridge (shown on the left) provides a creek crossing from Westminster Cemetery.  This area is a shady respite on hot summer days

Vine Creek is home to birds fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, insects and other wildlife. 

Several creekside restoration projects are currently under way along the creek.  Volunteers are also replacing invasive species with native plants; you can read more about that in other parts of this website.  

Visitors to Bala Cynwyd Park also interact with the Vine Creek Watershed.  Both streams in the park eventually drain into Vine Creek, although the connection is underground, beneath the drive in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.  The wetland area in the park, adjacent to the larger creek, is designed to slow the flow of water and filter it before it enters the fast-moving stream.  

The park stream is also home to fish, frogs and other animals at least part of the year. 

Most of the water that enters the watershed at Bala Cynwyd Park comes from storm sewers that drain residences upstream of the park. The highlighted are on the map shows the entire watershed--the trail is shown in yellow. Many of the streams shown on this map are now under the streets and only visible as storm sewer drains.   Even though these streams aren't visible, they are important and keeping the water that goes into them free from toxic chemicals, soaps, fertilizers and other pollutants is vital to the health of the creeks that the storm sewers drain into. 

If you live in the area, zoom in to find your house in the watershed! This map was created using Model My Watershed, courtesy of Stroud Water Research Center (2017)

Besides keeping the water clean, it's also important to slow down the water as much as possible.  Grassy swales along the trail are there to both filter and slow the water. Homeowners can "slow the flow" of water from their property into the storm drains in several ways.  These include catching the water in rain barrels (for use later), slowing it in depressions like rain gardens, and planting vegetation that holds onto the water longer.  

This booklet from Penn State tells homeowners what they need to know about managing stormwater on their property.  It includes references to Best Management Practices, often called BMP's, which are things that help reduce the impact of stormwater on streams like Vine Creek.

Frequently asked questions about stewardship practices in the Vine Creek watershed areas. 

Why are trailside areas left unmowed?

Many of these areas are swales and their function is to slow and filter stormwater.  Read more about swales and how they work to help the creek. 

Why do we leave the logs in the stream? 

It's not neglect, but rather makes for a healthier stream. Visit this page for some answers to the question. 

How much do trees really help prevent erosion in Vine Creek?

They help in many ways! Trees and other plants next to the creek can help keep banks from eroding. Trees and other plants within 30 ft or so of a stream form what is called a riparian buffer, which helps filter and slow water going directly into the creek. 

But perhaps the most important trees are those in the upstream parts of the watershed--the trees in residential yards and lining the streets.  Trees slow down water movement in several ways. Did you ever notice that when you are walking under trees when it starts to rain, you don't start getting wet for many minutes? That's because a large tree can hold over 300 gallons of water before any of it will reach the ground. Trees also take water out of the soil and release it into the air through a process called transpiration--as much as 100 gallons per day for a large tree. And tree roots open up passages in the soil for the water to run down into instead of sheeting off. Any time a tree is removed anywhere in the watershed there is an increase in many gallons of water going quickly into the storm sewers.  Conversely, planting trees helps reduce stormwater runoff. But it takes time for trees to grow. 

Historical Maps of the Vine Creek Watershed Area

It's fascinating to look at old maps showing this area.  This one is from 1851, enlarged from a map known as the Levering map, from the Lower Merion Historical Society (this is a 1908 rendering of the original map). Notice Levering Mill Road and Meeting House Lane in much the same location as today. The road now called Belmont Avenue stopped at Levering Mill Road. The bridge crossing the river (current site of the Green Lane bridge) is at the top right of the map section shown here.  Note that the Vine Creek tributaries, just below Levering Mill Road on this map, are not so different from today.  Vine Creek had several mills at different times in history; this map doesn't show the mills but labels a Woolen Factory.  At this time, Vine Creek may have been known as Frog Hollow Run. The area that would become West Laurel Hill Cemetery is designated Maple Hill on this map. 

Take time to read the signage along the trail to learn more about the industrial aspects of the mills in this area. 

This is from an even older map, the John Hills 1809 map of Philadelphia and the surrounding area.  It also seems to show Levering Mill Road and the Vine Creek watershed although there aren't a lot of labels.  For orientation, the Jones Ferry (lettering in the middle of the section of river shown) was probably at the end of what is now Righter's Ferry Road. So the Vine Creek watershed is the next one to the north. Note the 7M marker for the Lancaster Turnpike, which is near the junction with Levering Mill Road.