In theory, Devil's Pool should be unbothered this weekend.
The popular destination inside Wissahickon Valley Park has been ordered closed for weekends from now through September. The Department of Parks and Recreation said Wednesday that the new policy was a "public-safety" matter.
However, I faced little opposition as I took a longer route. I sat on a boulder overlooking the water basin and had the scene to myself for nearly an hour in the early afternoon.
The sought-after location sits just before where Cresheim Creek finds the Wissahickon, with a natural pool collecting near the confluence. According to a widely shared local legend, the Lenni-Lenape believed that the area was not only the meeting of the two creeks, but a meeting point for good and evil.
Boulders that surround the area have sinuous, wavy folds that are not only unique to the valley, but also make for "one of Pennsylvania's outstanding scenic geological features," as one researcher said. Taking to the top of the rocks and jumping into the pool is common, despite reports describing the hazard of the leap and the unsanitary state of the water.
The closure follows complaints in the neighborhood that visitors coming to the illegal swimming hole were committing lewd acts in the park and leaving unsightly trash behind. Karen Daroff, who lives near the pool, said that while she wasn't among the people who complained, she has been disturbed by visitors, especially in the last two years.
Daroff has many concerns after seeing near-accidents between racing cars, public urination, and lots of broken bottles that she has gone to routinely clean up. Chief among her concerns, though, are a lack of respect for the environment and the perils of cliff-jumping. Daroff said that she's administered first aid or called an ambulance for injured pool visitors several times.
"When there's very humid weather and people are looking for some relief, they look at this as an opportunity for recreation," she said. "I'm hoping and I'm thinking that there are alternate places for families to go and have a good time. But this one is just dangerous."
Police were stationed Saturday at both Livezey Lane and Valley Green Road. Officers were also seen near the historic Livezey House. But let's say one took a more southern entrance to the park. A potential visitor unswayed by clinging August humidity could easily take a trail headed toward the destination, as I did. Mount Airy-based writer Bradley Maule also posted on Instagram from the spot Saturday.
My winding path measured roughly a mile and a half. While there were police at the entrance of Livezey Lane, I just hiked there. From Livezey, I found an unguarded trail leading to Devil's Pool, marked with signage that the route was closed. I ignored this for journalism.
Nearer the pool, I saw a few cyclists. One kindly gave me directions when I felt unsure which way to go at a fork in the trail. Her advice was spot on. I arrived at the rocks above the water and found no visitors, no rangers, and no officers.
To take in Devil's Pool alone is a serene experience, for the most part. The trash is still out there. I tried to block out that a wet pair of underwear was left on a rock near my chill spot, but obviously the sight has lingered.
An officer eventually appeared and called up to me. I was the only person he'd seen at the spot. He informed me that the area was closed and asked for my name. I gave it to him and shared that I'm a reporter. He took down my name, said there wouldn't be a ticket, and escorted me out. Police said swimmers there could face a fine of $100.
As I left I met Nicolas Malabett-Pineda, who had sneaked inside with a friend. They took a side trail near Livezey that was a much faster shortcut than what I followed. Malabett-Pineda was visiting from Miami. In his work as an activist, he encourages exploring public spaces to consider the effects of climate change, and enjoys finding such areas himself when he's traveling. (He made it to the pool later, but with officers in sight, he didn't stick around long.) The activist is concerned that some bad apples may be hampering access for everyone.
"People who are trying to experience nature have this issue," he said. "To have these struggles, it's … disappointing. It's frustrating."