Prior to European settlement in the 1600s, the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford watershed, like the rest of the Philadelphia area, was inhabited by Native Americans of the Lenape tribe. Swedes and Finns traveling up the Delaware River were the first European inhabitants of the Tacony Creek Valley, while Germans fleeing religious persecution settled in the western portion of the watershed in what is now Germantown.

In 1664, the land that is now southeastern Pennsylvania was surrendered to the English by the Dutch. In 1681, King Charles II of England granted William Penn 40,000 acres of land in the Delaware Valley as repayment for a debt owed to Penn’s father. The entire Tookany/Tacony-Frankford watershed lies within the area of this land grant. With the establishment of Penn’s colony, English settlers flocked to the region, establishing homesteads, plantations and towns.

The Tacony Creek and surrounding valley was primarily developed as an area of agriculture and milling operations, becoming a center of industry during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Expansion of the city in the late 1800s led to the conversion of farmland into residential neighborhoods, though active agriculture persisted in the upper watershed until the early 1900s. High-density housing characterizes the area’s development after the 1940s.

Today’s Challenges

Currently, the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Creek experiences many problems typical of urban streams including litter, illegal dumping, channelization, steeply eroded streambanks, degraded aquatic and riparian habitat, and impaired water quality.

The watershed is home to approximately 357,000 people with a range of income levels and ethnicities and a variety of community strengths and struggles. The creek should serve as a place for relaxation, recreation, inspiration, and community connection. However, in many places, the compromised state of the creek’s health and aesthetics deters residents from enjoying it as a community asset. These areas attract illegal activities such as all-terrain vehicle use, graffiti, and dumping.

Stormwater runoff is the major source of water pollution. When it rains, motor oil, antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid from cars, and salt and sand from road treatment wash into storm drains that lead to streams and rivers, damaging our waterways. Polluted water from our streets floods our creeks, eroding stream banks, washing away natural stream habitats and fouling stream ecosystems.

In Philadelphia’s combined sewage outfall areas, rainwater overloads sanitary sewer pipes, causing them to discharge raw sewage into our streams.

Litter and dumping are a serious problem. Most people don’t realize that storm drains on the streets lead directly to our creeks. Chip bags, candy wrappers, gum and cigarette butts discarded on the sidewalks or out of car windows ultimately make their way from the street through the storm drain system and into the creek.

Sometimes, our urban green spaces are used for illegal activities, such as dumping. This is not only unhealthy for the natural stream habitat, but makes our parks unattractive and unhealthy for people who want to enjoy the city’s natural areas.

ATVs and grafitti keep people away and reckless ATV use destroys native plants and erodes stream banks. Graffiti damages trees and contributes to an unsafe feeling for other park users.

Photo by Lindsay Deal


Working closely with our communities, partners, and residents, we are undertaking projects to measure and improve water quality, increase stewardship, eliminate negative activities and restore our watershed to a healthier, more vibrant and accessible state. New trails and stream protection and restoration projects undertaken by Philadelphia’s Water and Parks & Recreation departments, as well as Cheltenham Township and our other upstream stakeholders, are a first major step to improving our watershed creeks and parks!

To find out more ways you can help, check out our What You Can Do page.