John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge celebrates half a century 

September 16, 2022

by Tianna G. Hansen

For those of you familiar with the history of Natural Lands and how we came to be, you’ll immediately recognize the link between our organization and what is known today as John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. 

It is essentially where it all began, and what many consider our “birthplace”.  

Located in southwest Philadelphia along the highway 95 corridor, the then-called Tinicum Marsh was threatened by dredging and development in the early 1950’s. (The Lenape called this land Tennakon Minquas or “islands of the marsh”.) 

Allston Jenkins, along with fellow birdwatchers and grass-roots organizers, succeeded in saving several hundred acres of marshland from destruction. Jenkins’ efforts led to the founding of the Philadelphia Conservationists, later renamed Natural Lands. 

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, known by many as America’s First Urban Refuge, celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 30, 2022, welcoming refuge neighbors, friends, volunteers, partners, supporters, and elected officials to a grand community party. Nearly 500 attendees participated in a festive afternoon of activities for all ages including trolley tours, guided bird and nature walks, archery, commemorations, and cake! Attendees even joined in a serenade of “Happy Birthday” to the Refuge in recognition of the last half-century. 

Among some of the main attractions, In Color Birding lead a lively bird walk with a flock of birders and beyond. Representatives from Delaware Riverkeepers led a walk to highlight the 128-acres of green space adjacent to the Refuge—still under threat of development today. 

Staff member Debbie Beer especially enjoyed the celebration and connection between Natural Lands and the place where she has volunteered for more than 20 years. Debbie serves as a refuge bird walk leader, avian surveyor, and Eastwick community advocate. “Heinz Refuge is close to my heart, an urban oasis in the bustling city of Philadelphia. I have met countless wonderful people while volunteering there for many years. The birds and wildlife are outstanding!” 

Learn more about Heinz Wildlife Refuge’s cherished green space and what you can do to help continue conservation efforts. 

Dedicated Force of Nature volunteers Jen Trumbore (left) and Megan Green ran the outreach table at the event. Photo: Debbie Beer.

Dedicated Force of Nature volunteers Jen Trumbore (left) and Megan Green ran the outreach table at the event. Photo: Debbie Beer.