Watershed Walk

On a normal sunny day on the trail it is hard to imagine just how much water flows along the trail and into Vine Creek during a rain storm. So we spent some time down here in the rain and made videos so you can see it from the comfort of a sunny day, or even your couch! If you start at Cynwyd Station you can follow the 20 signs that have QR-coded links on them. The links take you to videos shot from that location during a rainstorm. If you scroll down through this page the text from each sign is reproduced and if you click on the image next to it you will see those same videos. Clicking on the image will open up the video in Youtube; when you are done watching it just close that window to return to this page. Enjoy!

If you want to know more, you can get an introduction to the Vine Creek Watershed elsewhere on this site, including cool historical maps of the area. We also have information about how we are protecting the creek by improving the health of the riparian buffer

Watershed Walk #1

This branch of Vine Creek starts at the Cynwyd Trailhead. When it rains hard a lot of water comes from the impervious surfaces of Conshohocken State Road and buildings along it, almost up to the post office.  Some also comes down the rail line.  Click on the image to watch a short video that will give a sense of how much water enters here during a moderate rainstorm. It starts by looking left and then pans right.

Watershed Walk #2

Water from the other side of Conshohocken State Road goes underground and joins the creek on this side of the trail. It enters via the culvert you see in front of you. Click image to watch a short video that will give a sense of how much water enters here during a moderate rainstorm. Notice how the rocks, called riprap, help slow the flow of the water, reducing its ability to erode.

Watershed Walk #3

In a light rain you won’t see water flowing on this side of the trail, but in a moderate rain much more water enters because of the impervious surface on the trail itself and up past the train station. Notice how the vegetation in the swale causes the stream to meander, slowing it down and reducing erosion. Click on the image to watch a short video that will give a sense of how much water enters here during a moderate rainstorm. Further down the road, to your left, this stream crosses under the road. You’ll see that in upcoming videos.

Watershed walk #4

It can be difficult to believe just how much water runs through these swales. This video includes the bridge you see in front of you, just to give a better idea of what it’s like down here in a rainstorm! At the end of the video you can see how much water goes from the trail over to Rolling Road. The next video is a closeup of where water from the other side of the trail joins this stream

Watershed Walk #5

This is a view from behind the fence in front of you, looking downstream toward your right. The water from Trevor Lane and Llandrillo enters from a storm sewer that goes under the trail, near where you are standing. Notice how much sediment there is in this water, because it has been in a pipe, not in a grassy swale. At the end of the video you can see the much clearer water at the bottom of the image—this is water that was in the swale to your left.

Watershed Walk #6

Those of you who live on Rolling Road near the creek know how much it swells during a storm.  This is just a quick peek behind the fence; maybe a resident can get us some better footage of what happens to the creek back here during storms.  The video ends on the other side of the trail bridge that goes over the stream, right at the playground entrance, near where the tour sign is placed.

Watershed Walk #7

This is just one of the many storm drains capturing runoff that eventually goes into Vine Creek. This one happens to be on Llandrillo, and the water goes into the drain and then underground in a pipe until it enters Vine Creek, as shown in #6. Sometimes people don’t realize that water entering the storm drains does not get any treatment before it enters the creeks and eventually the river.

Watershed Walk #8

Much of the rain that falls directly on the trail does not go into the swales, but rather flows down the trail. On the unpaved side of the trail the water is slowed as it meanders like a natural creek. However, this causes erosion of the trail. The trail was originally pitched so the water would flow into the swale but over time that pitch has been lost.

Watershed Walk #9

One of the challenges with drainage at this part of the trail is that there is an area here that is quite flat, so water doesn’t tend to go down the trail. It may also be that there is rock or other impermeable material under the swale.  We can tell because water tends to accumulate here. These temporary wetlands are home to special plants and they are important breeding habitat for frogs, toads and other animals. This time the link takes you to some information about one of the plants, which may belong to the oldest plant genus on earth!

Watershed Walk #10

Some of the stormwater features on the trail are a little mysterious. This culvert runs under the trail to the park side of the trail, where there is rock rip-rap designed to slow a tremendous flow of water. But we never see any water going through the culvert over to that side. As you see looking in the drain, there is no water movement. It is unfortunate because it would be good to divert some of the water from the Rolling Road side to here. Instead it all dumps into the creek at the bridge in the Bala Cynwyd Playground. 

Watershed Walk #11

This is where the stream comes back over from Rolling Road.  After running through the park in this channel, the stream goes underground. It runs under Belmont Avenue and through Laurel Hill West cemetery; you can see it through the grates in the cemetery driveway. When a stream is channelized like this it can’t meander to slow down the flow. The stream comes back aboveground just below the parking lot at the Barmouth trailhead, across from the cemetery gate that bikes use to enter the trail.

Watershed Walk #12

The trail itself intercepts a lot of water. It would be better if that water ran off the trail and into the swales on either side. However, most of the time it does not, either because it wasn’t pitched correctly when constructed, or in some cases because as sediment runs off, it eventually accumulates and makes a little dam. Our volunteers try to maintain runoff ditches in some parts of the trail, as you see here. You can see a couple of them functioning in the video.

Watershed Walk #13

Standing here on a nice day it is hard to believe how much water comes down these rocks during heavy rainstorms. It comes down from Belmont avenue and buildings and parking lots along the street. As the video shows, it's quite a waterfall. The water gets cleaned up a little if it spends time in the swale before going down a storm drain. 

Watershed Walk #14

Part of Luka Magder’s Eagle Scout project involved making the check dams that you see here. These help slow the flow of water, which allows the sediment to sink down. This means that the water will be more clean when it gets into the creek. There are check dams in several swale areas. They require maintenance; they can get blown out in a big storm and as sediment builds up behind them it periodically needs to be removed.

Watershed Walk #15

This is where water from several upstream areas all comes together in the main channel of Vine Creek. The video starts at the top of the hill on Levering Mill road, goes down the drive to the parking lot, and follows the water as it joins the stream that comes from the Bala Cynwyd Playground, underground through the cemetery, through a culvert that is right under your feet. Water from the swale to your left, up to the Belmont Bridge and beyond, also  enters from underground. In a strong rainstorm this system gets overwhelmed and water gets sent across the trail--which actually may not be a bad thing. 

Watershed Walk #16

When the culverts at Barmouth are overwhelmed or blocked, water flows over the trail and into the swale on the other side. It goes down that swale, back under the trail in a culvert, and into a very large retention basin that was clearly constructed for the purpose of holding floodwater, presumably when the railroad was here. While the erosion next to the trail is a problem, keeping water out of the Vine Creek channel during flooding rains is a good thing. 

Watershed Walk #17

In a moderate to heavy rainstorm water goes over the trail into a swale and then back under the trail into the swale that you see in this video. It runs down the swale into the large retention basin, which is out of view at the end of the video but pictured here from the other side.  This basin was revegetated and the check dam structures added as part of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation project carried out with the Lower Merion Conservancy.

Watershed Walk #18

Sediment is one of the types of pollution that is damaging to life in the creek. When construction sites don’t properly prevent erosion, extensive sediment can wash into creeks. In this video you can see a large amount of sediment coming in from a site in Westminster Cemetery where the vegetation and topsoil was removed from a hillside. Sediment can destroy the habitat of insects, and can even block the gills of fish so they can't breathe.  

Watershed Walk #19

Just looking at the creek you can see evidence of erosion in the exposed tree roots and banks without vegetation. This video shows what the creek looks like at this spot when it is raining hard. Sometimes people think that we should remove the logs from the stream but studies have shown that actually it is much better to leave them in. They slow the flow of water and provide habitat for fish, frogs, and other animals. 

Watershed Walk #20

This is where Vine Creek goes back underground, down into a giant deep culvert that goes under the trail. It eventually empties into the Schuylkill River.  Once in a while the culvert gets blocked. When that happens water rushes over the trail, and there is danger that it could be completely washed away. If you cross over the trail, you can see that the gorge on the other side is steep and deep.