TAKE REFUGE: John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

Deer pauses near pond.

A white-tailed deer pauses at pond.

Philadelphia is a city of tradition. It’s the home of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. But you may not know that it also preserves some of our nation’s natural heritage.

The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, located within the city limits, protects the last 200 acres of freshwater tidal marsh in the entire state. All summer long we’ve encouraged you to escape big cities — to reconnect with your wild side. This time you don’t have to leave the urban jungle to enjoy nature.


In the early 17th century, settlers erected stonewalls and drained much of the Tinicum Marsh to provide grazing areas for livestock. Back then, the marsh covered more than 5,000 acres. However, rapid urbanization in the early 20th century reduced it to the current size. To protect the remaining wetlands, Congress established the Tinicum Environmental Center in 1972, which was later renamed in honor of the late Sen. John Heinz III. When land acquisitions are finalized, the refuge will protect some 1,200 acres of habitat, according the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

What to Do

Admission is free to the public and the refuge grounds are open every day year round from sunrise to sunset (except the education center, which is closed on federal holidays). Visitors can download a wealth of information from the refuge’s knowledgeable staff about events, trails, wildlife and history of the land at the Cusano Environmental Education Center, located at the main entrance.

Turtle perches on water log.

A painted turtle takes a sunbath on a log.

Canoeing Darby Creek is a great way to spot the refuge’s diverse wildlife: fox, deer, possum and muskrat — just to name a few. But rarer critters, such as the state endangered red-bellied turtle and leopard frog, also call the refuge home.

Like many wetlands along the Eastern coast, the refuge is a sanctuary for migrating birds. Warblers, egrets, sand pipers and ducks stop to feed in the marshes during their spring and fall journeys.

For shutterbugs, the refuge hosts an annual photo contest with cash prizes. The competition is split into three categories by age. All photo entries must be submitted by Sept. 1, 2011. Each category has its own set of rules and unique prizes.

The casual naturalists, however, can find more than 10 miles of trails through woodlands and grasslands.

The refuge’s main entrance is located at the intersection of 86th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard, less than a mile from the Philadelphia International Airport.

Go experience the last historic remaining tidal marsh in Keystone State. TAKE REFUGE at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in the city of brotherly love.