What We Do

The Refuge is uniquely positioned along the Atlantic Flyway and within the major metropolitan area of Philadelphia. Challenged with the protection of natural resources under the pressure of extensive urban development beyond its borders, the Refuge works to provide both quality habitat to wildlife and opportunities to connect to nature for diverse communities. 

Management and Conservation

Emergent Wetland Management

The Refuge is home to a roughly 145-acre emergent wetland where the Service manages water levels. Adjusting the water levels throughout the seasons maximizes the benefits for migrating birds, invertebrates, and plant communities. The water level can be lowered to expose mud flats that provide for feeding and resting areas during shorebird migration or raised during waterfowl migration for dabbling and diving ducks. 

Invasive Species Management

Invasive plants on the Refuge, including Phragmites, Purple loosestrife, Bush honeysuckle, and Oriental bittersweet, out-compete native plants and, in turn, hurt the animals that rely on native plants for food and shelter. The Refuge’s goal is to remove the non-native plants and protect the biodiversity of our habitats.

The Refuge employs several techniques to control invasive plants including hand pulling and cutting, mowing, herbicides, and biological control. The Refuge relies heavily on volunteers to control invasive plants, through a volunteer group called the Weed Warriors. Weed Warriors meet on the second Saturday of every month from 9 am to 12 pm for Stewardship Saturdays. This is an open event that welcomes all visitors to take part in a hands on experience of creating better habitats for wildlife on the Refuge. New volunteers will meet experienced Weed Warriors at the Visitor's Center before heading out to the refuge to manage invasive plants and plant native plants. 

The Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) is another invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

Learn more about invasive species
known to inhabit the waters of the Refuge and Darby Creek. Listed as an injurious species in 2002, the non-native fish from East Asia was first positively identified in Refuge waters in 2012. The Northern Snakehead poses a risk to native populations of fish, turtles, and frogs and the Refuge is working to manage their population. Anglers who catch a Northern Snakehead are required to dispatch the fish or turn it over to Refuge staff. It is against Refuge policy to release a captured snakehead back into refuge waters.

A Place of Refuge, Not Rehabilitation

Although John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge prioritizes wildlife and their health, the Refuge does not serve the purpose of wildlife rehabilitation. If you find an injured animal off Refuge property, please contact your local animal rehabilitation facility. In you do not have access to that information, the Refuge can assist with providing contact information of local rehabbers. If you find an injured animal on Refuge property, you may contact the front desk at 215-365-3118. Note the animal’s location and avoid approaching it or attempting to catch it.

Our Projects and Research

Water Management Upgrades to Improve Wildlife Habitat

In cooperation with our partners from Ducks Unlimited, the Refuge is installing a pump system to better manage water levels. There will be periodic trail closures for visitor safety while heavy equipment is being operated. 

Any visitor on closed trails will be considered trespassing and may be ticketed. The Turkey Foot Trail remains closed for restoration (see map). All other trails are now open, but there may be temporary closures in the future. Thank you for your patience as we improve wetland habitat!

Turkey Foot Trail Restoration Project

The Turkey Foot Trail will be closed to all access while a restoration project is taking place. The refuge is working in coordination and partnership with the State of Pennsylvania, Friends of Heinz refuge, Princeton Hydro, and Enviroscapes to restore the function of the tidal marsh in the Turkey Foot area.  This project will improve habitat for native turtles, wading birds, shorebirds, and fish species.  Please do not use this area during the closure period. We appreciate your patience while this restoration project is completed. Please reach out to marianna_bergerson@fws.gov if you have any questions.

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is part of the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, whose main goal is to engage urban communities as partners in wildlife conservation. The Urban Standards of Excellence is the framework for this collaboration and guides the refuge in our work both on refuge lands and in the neighboring communities. 

Urban Standards of Excellence 

1) Know and relate to your community 

2) Connect urban people with nature 

3) Build partnerships 

4) Be a community asset 

5) Ensure adequate long–term resources 

6) Provide equitable access 

7) Ensure visitors feel safe and welcome 

8) Model sustainability 

Law Enforcement

By fostering understanding and instilling in the visiting public an appreciation of refuge resources, laws, and regulations, our law enforcement encourages voluntary compliance through education, outreach, and law enforcement actions while in a welcoming and safe environment. Refuge law enforcement works collaboratively with law enforcement officers from other state and federal land management agencies as well as local law enforcement.



Laws and Regulations

There are lots of fun, interesting, and educational things you can do on the refuge. Keep in mind, if an activity is not wildlife related and doesn't help in the protection or understanding of wildlife or their habitat, there are probably refuge rules governing this activity. Please check with the refuge management before participating in an activity that could harm the environment or yourself. There are plenty of activities at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge for you to enjoy. Be safe and have fun!