The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. A Cloudy, Rainy But Interesting Hike In South Philadelphia
I first saw what I now know is the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia in the early 1990’s. It was shortly after the “Blue Route” or Interstate 476 was opened to traffic. We used this route as a “short cut” to travel to Phillies baseball and Eagles football games from my home in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The distance was longer but we avoided the dreaded traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway. It took us north on Interstate 95 and past a large area of swamps and wetlands. Years later, after many visits to the stadiums and the Philadelphia airport I learned these swamps and wetlands were a wildlife refugee. And more recently it was the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and a great place to see water fowl and other birds.
This past weekend I had a trustee meeting to attend in the Philadelphia area. I decided to stay the night and visit the John Heinz National Wildlife Center for the first time. It was late afternoon by the time I arrived at the refuge. It was cloudy with some light rain and an occasional downpour. I braved the foul weather hoping to see some water fowl as I explored, what I learned, is the largest remaining fresh water marsh in Pennsylvania. I left the visitor center parking lot located just off of Lindbergh Blvd. in South Philadelphia and began my hike on the Wetland Loop.
The fresh water marsh was once over 5000 acres. Only 2oo acres remain of this unique habitat which is home to so many diverse types of plants and wildlife. The entire refuge protects about 1000 acres of wetlands, woodlands and the remaining marsh. The area was once a favorite fishing hunting, gathering area of the Native Americans, This was the homeland of the Turtle Clan of the Lenni Lenape. They called it Tennakon Minquas or “islands of the marsh”. The first settlers in the area named it the Tinicum Marsh.
The marsh was almost completely lost to a landfill and the construction of Interstate 95 in the 1950’s and 10960’s. A group of residents and conservationists fought against these developments and in 1972 Congress passed legislation creating the Tinicum National Environmental Center. It was later renamed the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. where I was now hiking and exploring for the first time. I followed the Wetland Loop along the Darby Creek for about a half mile. A large lake was on the other side of the trail.
I was disappointed at the beginning of my hike. I saw almost no wildlife or birds on the creek or lake. A few Canada geese honked on the far side of the lake and, a couple of mallard ducks flew over me,
I had heard there was a lot of water fowl and other birds in the refugee and I was beginning to doubt these reports, when, as the trail made a turn, I came to an inlet and found a whole lot of ducks and geese.
On the other side the trail was a muddy wetland where there were also had a lot of Canada geese. I now wished it wasn’t raining and late in the afternoon. This place looked like it would have a lot of wildlife activity on a nice day.
I walked back to the Wetland loop and followed it for a short distance further, I came back to the lack were I saw more ducks, geese and a pair of invasive mute swans.
and this downy woodpecker on my return hike. Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos of the birds I saw at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Philadelphia John Heinz birds. February 17 2023.
I had no idea why they were there and what they were doing but it was a cool thing to watch. After watching the swarming fish I finished my three mile hike and drove back to my lodging for the night. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with more photos from my first hike in the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Philadelphia John Heinz February 17 2023.
I was staying at the Gables Bed and Breakfast on Chester Street in the University City section of Philadelphia. I
I will write more about the house, it’s history and neighborhood in another blog.
After a quick shower I walked about a half mile to the Vientiane Cafe on Baltimore Avenue. It was a great meal. I was starving. For the new followers of my blog, I am usually starving after my hikes, and when I travel, I like to share photos of my meals. I started with a bowl of tom yum soup.
I left the restaurant and had a pleasant, but cold, walk back to my lodging. A cold front had passed through the area dropping temperatures into the low 30’s with a strong northwesterly wind. If it weren’t so cold I would have strolled the quaint streets of the University City neighborhood. I was tired but I love exploring the streets of a city at night. Hopefully I will return soon to further explore this neighborhood and the John Heinz National Wildlife refuge. On Friday I was soon in my room, edited some photos and fell asleep looking forward to a morning hike in the refuge. I love Philadelphia .
“A city isn’t so unlike a person. They both have the marks to show they have many stories to tell. They see many faces. They tear things down and make new again.”