What is There Now
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge
What's There1,200 acres to walk, fish, and canoe
A Visitor Center with exhibits.
The tidal marsh boardwalk
Parking, but not a lot of it. No picnic tables, so bring a blanket for the lawn if you want to eat a bite of brought food.
When Did it OpenJohn Heinz National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1972.
How Much to VisitFree
How to Get ThereAs we said, you'll almost have to get lost to do it, even though there's a lot around it. Unlike some sites, there are a good amount of signs once you get in the area. Off I-95, it's off Bartram Avenue/PA 241, 84th Street, and eventually Lindbergh Boulevard. Look for those signs to the site.
How Many People Visit
135,000 people per year.
Website: John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge
What's ThereA Revolutionary War Fort with parapets, cannons, and parade grounds.
A gift shop.
Walks and talks in summer.
Parking in front of the moat, which you should avoid, and there is a group of picnic tables overlooking the Delaware River.
When Did it OpenIt's the Revolutionary War time period folks, so prior to 1775, which is the year the Americans took control of the British fort.
How Much to VisitAdult - $6.00
Senior - $5.00
Student - $3.00
Child (Under 6) - Free
The site is open March 1 to December 15. There is a couple dollar extra fee on some special event days.
How to Get ThereIt's 3.5 miles from the Heinz Refuge and signs are harder to find than for the National Wildlife tract. From downtown Philly, take I-95 south to Exit 15 (Island Avenue/Enterprise Avenue), then left on Fort Mifflin Road and look for signs.
How Many People Visit
13,000 people per year. And on the way up!!
Website: Fort Mifflin
History Along the Way You Might Like
Brandywine State Battlefield
Philadelphia HIstoric Attractions, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House, and a whole lot more.
Citizen's Bank Park (home of the Phillies), which is not far from any of these sites.
Philadelphia and Its Waterfront
From a historic standpoint, Philadelphia has had a kinda love, not love relationship as far as developing sites and vistas to see. The Penn's Landing area has been growing in this regard over the last twenty-five years, but is not the Baltimore Harbor. The Independence National Historic Park reaches down to this area, but due to the unfortunate routing of I-95 decades ago between these two, still seems apart from the river. As you will see if you visit Fort Mifflin and/or Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, at no fault of their own, planners didn't think much about either when situating the airport so close nearby.
It might seem an odd combination, to find Revolutionary War history, a nature preserve, and commerce so closely tied together, but that's what you'll see, and all within a few miles, really, of the greater known historic sites of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the center of Philadelphia. It's not much of a trek, but you'll almost have to get lost to find it, despite the fact that for many who come to the City of Brotherly Love through the Philadelphia International Airport, you'll probably have passed these sites on the way to your hotel. But this history, of the human and natural kind, might make a nice sojourn back toward the airport confines, to find a small piece of history, and a little peace of mind, that gets kinda forgotten in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania lore, in many parts, becasue of its location.
But, the odd part is, it's the location of these two sites that made them so important. First, at Fort Mifflin, to the nation. Second, to the land, at Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, where the only freshwater tidal marsh in the state of Pennsylvania resides, keeping the migratory bird population happy as they trek south for the winter, and the over one hundred thousand visitors pleased as they walk the paths, fish the waters, and glide across them.
Fort Mifflin sits on the Delaware River, one of a number of Revolutionary War forts, including one directly across from it on the New Jersey side, Fort Mercer, which is an earthen fort interpreted at Red Bank Battlefield Park, that guarded the entry to Philadelphia and points north on the river. And during the Revolutionary War, it played a part so important, that had the 1777 battle and bombardment at Fort Mifflin against the ships of the British Navy bringing supplies to their troops had not been successful, the Army of George Washington may never had made it into camp at Valley Forge due to the pursuit of the British Army. And if that had not happened, the development of the Continental Army into a fighting force that could win that long war of freedom may never had occurred.
The Fort Mifflin bombardment was the largest bombardment of the war, and the 400 men fighting against the British here for six weeks in the fall of 1777 have a special tale to tell. There are guided walks of the fort in the summer season, cannon demonstrations, and a cool fort to explore. This is a place children can explore and like, maybe even more than those great places inside the city. And they may end up knowing something extra about how our nation became a nation that very few know.
The history of the freshwater marshes south of the city began in 1634 when settlers of Dutch, Swedish and English heritage drained and diked the area for grazing. At that time, the Tinicum Marsh, as it was known, was 5,700 acres. However, by the end of World War II and the urbanization of the area, it had shrunk to 200 acres. It has been restored to the 1,200 acres of the Refuge, which is administered by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The park is open year round with the Visitor Center exhibits and orientation open 8:30 to 4:00 p.m., except for Federal holidays. During spring and summer months there are a variety of bird and nature walks and talks, but even when they're not holding one of those, take advantage of the trails which wind through and around the marsh, cross a boardwalk, sit in a blind, take a bunch of photos and spend time in nature. It's a well maintained facility, with a wonderful array of waterfowl rising off the marsh and turtles making tracks through it. Check their website for details.