Waterways, wetlands, and winter wonder

by Jennie Saxe

The Schuylkill Center’s Rain Yard.

The Schuylkill Center’s rain yard

It’s true: autumn is drawing to a close. But don’t let the thought of a deeper chill in the air keep you inside all winter long! There are still some great places that you can go to experience the outdoors and learn more about the waterways right here in the Philadelphia area.

In the hilly Roxborough section of the city, on the edge of the Schuylkill River, you’ll find The Schuylkill Center. A conservation and environmental education fixture for 50 years, The Schuylkill Center is a peaceful refuge in the middle of an urban area, with miles of hiking trails. In the center’s rain garden, you can simulate a rainy day by using a functional sculpture that pulls rainwater from the roof and directs it to different types of landcover – like asphalt, lawns, and meadows – to test the infiltration of stormwater runoff. If the cold air is just too much to handle, head inside to experience an art installation inspired by a pocket of marshy land in New Jersey’s Meadowlands. The natural cedar forest habitat of the area was destroyed, but it is evolving into a unique ecosystem, ringed by shopping centers with a world-famous skyline as its backdrop.

A view across the impoundment at America's First Urban Refuge.

A view across the impoundment at America’s First Urban Refuge

The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is another great waterside recreation spot for hikers, bikers, and dog-walkers. The tidal marshes and native plants at America’s First Urban Refuge are critical habitat for birds, fish, turtles, and more. The trail that circles the 145-acre impoundment offers many opportunities to spot flora and fauna in this rich habitat. The refuge is open year-round; even in December you’re likely to spot a variety of wildlife, while “birds” of a different kind take off from the airport, just a stone’s throw away.

And in the heart of Center City Philadelphia, take a stroll through Sister Cities Park. The design inspiration for this park came from the nearby Wissahickon Valley. Children and adults alike can climb a trail snaking along a miniature stream that is planted with native species. The park’s café is topped with a green roof that helps cool the building and soaks up rainwater.

Grab your gloves and lace up your boots – a winter wonderland of woods, wetlands, and waterways awaits!


About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. The gallery show, Hackensack Dreaming, will be at The Schuylkill Center until December 19.



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