Why do so many country people drive into the city to view wildlife?
The answer: John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge! It’s the stark contrast of Boeing 737’s raising up in the air and a bald eagle flying over your head. It’s the Philadelphia skyline in the distance and the bow of your kayak cutting through the Lilly pads.
It’s hard to imagine such a beautiful place nestled in such an industrialized area. Most of our visits to John Heinz NWF over the years have been on foot. There are over 10 miles of trails, including the popular "Impoundment Trail", and two boardwalks that cross the impoundment and one of its smaller coves. The impoundment trail is wide, flat and easy to hike. Biking is also a great way to enjoy the refuge.
Rest assured you will see as many songbirds as you would see in the country. Bird watchers have recorded over 300 species of birds in and around the Refuge. Migratory birds like warblers, egrets, sandpipers, and a large variety of ducks, within the Atlantic Flyway, use the refuge as a resting/feeding spot during spring and fall flights. And if you’re lucky you may see a Peregrine Falcon or a Bald Eagle. I can honestly say that we have seen a bald eagle almost every time we have been there.
Kayaking or canoeing the tidal-influenced Darby Creek can be somewhat challenging, but well worth it. There is a boat ramp located within the refuge. The ramp is wooden, very steep and slippery. Take special care when entering and exiting your boat. The trail is about 4.5-miles and is only navigable between the two hours preceding and the two hours following high tide. I highly suggest that you adhere to these hours, if not you will be stranded in the mud flats for hours. The creek is not pretty at it’s entrance. It’s an unfortunate reality that some people don’t care about littering. Don’t let this stop you, because once you get past this area, you will be rewarded with paddling the largest remaining freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania; approximately 200 acres. (Bringing GPS is not a bad idea.)
The marsh is one of the few places in Pennsylvania where the state-endangered red-bellied turtle and southern leopard frog can be found. Also keep your eyes out for the spiny soft shelled turtle. We spotted and photographed this turtle during our kayak trip at the end of June 2007. Since we have never seen this particular species before we stopped into the park office to ask about it’s inhabitance at the park and were surprised and honored to find out that we had just documented a new species of turtle at John Heinz NWR. This made our kayaking trip even more memorable!
The refuge is located a couple of miles from the Philadelphia Airport in Tinnicum. The signs are well placed on I-95, and up to the park, and it is fairly easy to find.
A canoe trail map can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/heinz/DC Canoe Map1.jpg
View Tide Chart for the Park: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/heinz/07 tide charts.pdf
John Heinz Visitor Contact Station: 215-365-3118