John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum
Pennsylvania’s largest remaining freshwater tidal marsh
With 1000 acres, ten miles of trails and many native wildlife and plants, the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum protects the largest fresh water tidal marsh in Pennsylvania. The marsh, a key stop in the Atlantic flyway, is well-known among birdwatchers — 80 species nest here and 300 have been recorded.
But sporting enthusiasts like it too. There’s a canoe ramp, it’s open from sunrise to sunset so anglers are happy, and the network of low-lying trails attracts joggers as well as walkers.
Framed by the Philadelphia skyline, these 1,200 acres are a refuge for rare plants, resident and migratory birds, and earthbound animals including foxes and deer. After a visit to the Cusano Environmental Education Center, set out on foot or by bicycle on one of the 10 miles of trails that pass through various habitats.
Keep your binoculars handy to look for the endangered red-bellied turtle and southern leopard frogs that keep safe in the heavily vegetated wetlands. Walk the boardwalk and stop at the observation blinds to spot some of the 280 species of ducks, herons and other birds that have been seen here. Or bring your canoe to explore a stretch of Darby Creek and maybe do a little fishing.
Once a huge tidal wetland, diked and drained by early Swedish, Dutch and English farmers, the former Tinicum Marsh shrank to 200 acres during post-World War I urbanization. In 1955, Gulf Oil donated a non-tidal tract that became the nucleus of a wildlife preserve that opened in 1972, after surviving threats of extinction from I-95 construction and a sanitary landfill.
Leashed dogs are allowed. Comfortable shoes, long sleeves and pants are recommended. Boaters are advised to check the tides to avoid getting stranded on mud flats.
The Cradle of Birding Wildlife and Conservation Festival, featuring wildlife exhibitors, speakers, tours and food, is held every September. Darby Creek Cleanup, a conservation project held to celebrate earth day, is held every April.
The marsh is home to the coastal leopard frog, an endangered species in Pennsylvania.
The Friends of the Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Inc.
The Friends of Heinz Wildlife Refuge work on trails, assist with educational projects, and raise funds either in our nature store (Tinicum Treasures), or through grants, to implement projects that the Refuge’s budget will not cover. Learn more at their website.
Children enjoy spotting the turtles and frogs, state endangered animals, that abound here. Perhaps they can also spot the pair of bald eagles that visit regularly.
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