Exploring the Marsh

I expected to have about 6-8 hrs of good sunlight today to explore the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (aka “the Marsh” from now on). Unfortunately, our apartment building was struck by lightening again (lol wut) and the day was more or less ruined by a fire alarm no one knew how to turn off and the threat of another torrential storm. By 6pm-ish it was apparent there’d be no more rain. So I threw my mountain bike into the back of the Kia and made my way to the Marsh for the second time to see what I could salvage from my original plans.

My original plan was to take a backpack and load it up with my tackle box, some bottles of water, my camera, and disassembled fishing rod but the universe wasn’t entirely cooperating — so time wouldn’t really allow a full blown expedition. I had to settle for a 90 minute bike jaunt instead. The little time I had with cooperating weather was dedicated to finding places to fish from in the future. They were found.

I rode in on the path east of the marsh down to where the trail is closest to I-95 and took this video. That angle shows most of the main marsh, although the entire Refuge stretches a length several times greater than the marsh one initially encounters when entering the park via the Lindburgh Blvd entrance. This video shows what was to my back when recording the first video. The man made structure you see in the video is I-95.

I’m happy to report that along the bike/hiking trail there are several paths that lead directly to the water’s edge. I’ve checked and re-checked and it turns out fishing is actually allowed there. I get the very strong impression that few people know this, or at least least very few people are bothered to walk a mile to get to a good spot. If this watershed isn’t absolutely loaded with catfish (or carp, or rock bass, or pech), I can’t imagine any place would be. One particular thing that’s odd is that the water is green. No, I don’t mean green like the Jersey shore. I don’t mean green like a large surface algage bloom. I mean its green like someone cut up several football fields worth of grass, diced it finely, mixed with water and dumped it into the marsh. I’ve never really seen anything like it. I mean, its *bright* green. I’ve seen loads and loads of small minnows from an observation bridge that hovers above the surface at the north end of the marsh. I suppose they are feeding on the plankton that’s turning the marsh green. I’m hoping there are some larger fish up that chain waiting for me.

The area I explored today is along the right hand side of the body of water in the satellite shot below. The path near the bottom right corner is where I got myself to today before I turned around (the park closes at sunset). The shot features the main marsh at the top end of the refuge. I’ve seen other maps refer to it as Darby Lake.

This map below has a crude outline around the entire Wildlife Refuge. In addition to Darby Lake (“the Marsh”) you should be able to clearly follow the main line and tributaries of Darby Creek as it empties into the Delaware. From what I can tell, the widest north-south asxi is about 1 mile from the parking lot to the entrance to the Delaware, I’m figuring 3.5 miles. And yes, there are hiking/biking trails that go all around and stretch, I’d estimate, 10-12 miles in total. There is a canoe launch at the top end of the park that I’d really like to take advantage of one day.

My motiviation for finding this place… After finding a really great place to fish that is an hour away, I became convinced there had to be some secret location in the city that no one knew about and would only be 20 minutes away. Philadelphia was a swamp when settlers found and it, and heck, the land still wishes it were. Seemed like a totally absurd idea but a co-worker ended up telling me about this park. And, surprisingly, there really is a great secret fishing place inside Philadelphia’s borders. OK, I haven’t actually put a line in the water yet, but if all of the non-water based life I’ve seen is any indication, I’m liable to find Big Foot swimming around in a wet suit somewhere.

I’m jumping around here a lot, but I’ve taken in a lot in two short trips to the Marsh… on my first trip, it was like being at the zoo without any cages. I think I saw 3 or 4 deer in the first 100 yards. When I got to the observation peer I looked down and saw 6-8 turtle heads sticking out of the water. I turned to the other side of the observation peer — same thing. I looked at that thick green water and there were just hundreds of minnows feeding on the rich soup that is the marsh. I saw a few hawks, a couple of herons, four (!) snakes, rabbits, two or three species of duck, incalcuable species of flowers and plant life — and this is was all in the first 10 minutes! For a while I felt like every time I rounded a corner I entered a new world… the species of trees and flowers and the surface of the ground would change… walk another 200 yards… and it would change again. I later came home to read that there are FIVE distinct biological zones in the Refuge. When you go for a long enough walk, its very, very obvious.

I gotta say… after years of being an avid camper, life-long resident of PA, and Eagle Scout, I’ve never seen anything quite as interesting anywhere else in the state. It would be interesting in the middle of an un-populated PA county but to have it sitting next to a major metropolitan area and exist in its present (apparently) pristine state, is totally astounding.

Yes, it turns out the most inertesting aspect of nature I’ve ever seen within the border of the Commonwealth is located in South Philly – between a capped landfill, an airport, and an oil refinery.

Below are some pics I found on flickr that give a much better visual represenation than my cell phone shots. I can’t wait to get down there at sunset in the fall, but for now, these will have to do. Click on them and you’ll be taken to the photographer’s page to see more of their work.

Looks like this might be the north end of the impoundment/Darby Creek from the observation bridge.

A cove along the side of the impoundment/marsh/Darby Lake

The observation bridge at the north end of the impoundment. Once you get to the parking lot, this is barely a .5 mile walk.

This is a great representation of the green water.

There’s aother 1,100 pics of the park here.


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