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Escape the Philly Airport to Tinicum

By Alan M. Murray,
Uncharted Staff

A Great Blue Heron hunts for its next meal in marshland at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, in Tinicum, Pa. (© 2014 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

A Great Blue Heron hunts for its next meal in marshland at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, in Tinicum, Pa. (© 2014 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

I feel for anyone who has ever been stuck in an airport. Few things are worse than coming off an already long flight to find you aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Scrunched for several hours in the coach section, my legs wobbly as half-melted rubber and my joints stiff as rusted hinges, the last thing I want to hear when I finally get off that plane is that my connection is delayed.

The thought of staying another minute in the airport, when a tropical storm is being waged in my stomach, the combination of eating too many airline pretzels and the aftereffects of turbulence, is just unbearable.

And there’s always the fear of becoming part of the terminal. Once I was stranded in the Columbus International Airport at a ridiculously early hour in the morning. I’m pretty sure I was mistaken for a modern art sculpture as I slept near the baggage claim while cleaning staff waxed and buffed the floor around me, no doubt leaving behind a chalk line of my body stretched out on the frigid floor.

Since I live in the Philadelphia, Pa. area, I can’t count how many times I’ve missed flights or have had friends visiting get stuck at the Philadelphia International Airport, infamous for long lines and frequent delays.

So, for anyone out there who one day gets stuck in the Philly Airport, I recently found a new place that may make your stay at the airport a little more enjoyable, and it’s only a 10-minute drive from the airport.

The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, Pa. is a great place for hiking and is home to a variety of wildlife. Volunteers at the visitor center are extremely friendly. I only went in to look around for a few minutes and thought maybe I’d pick up a map. I was surprised when Lynn Roman and Karyl Weber, both volunteers at the refuge, offered to take me on a hiking tour of the area.

We had only hiked for a few minutes when we saw a Great Blue Heron perched atop a birdhouse overlooking the pond. Then Karyl spotted something else with her binoculars. Some distance from the path, a raccoon slept in the upper part of a tree. Even with the aid of binoculars, it was almost invisible as it rested comfortably camouflaged in a clump of branches.

A jet is seen from taking off from the Philadelphia International Airport as it flies over the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, only a ten-minute drive from the airport.

A jet is seen taking off from the Philadelphia International Airport as it flies over the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, in Tinicum, Pa. The refuge is only a ten-minute drive from the airport. 

Karyl then turned to another group of trees close to where we were standing.  She raised her binoculars and spotted a Great Horned Owl, its brown feathers blending so well into the tree’s trunk and hidden by an array of branches and leaves, that Lynn had to set up a spotting scope, provided by the refuge, so we could get a better look. It twisted its head and peeked around the trunk and disappeared again, leaving only a few feathers sticking out from behind the tree that could easily have been mistaken for twigs. As hikers passed by, Lynn invited them to take a look through the scope.

We continued hiking, this time along some paths leading into marshland where we saw another Great Blue Heron stalking its prey under the setting sun. In the distance, some American Bald Eagles soar above their nesting spot near Interstate Highway 95. We see sparrows, seagulls, woodpeckers and ducks. There is so much wildlife in just a short walk that it’s easy to forget just how close we are to the airport. Only the occasional jet taking off or landing in the distant horizon with occasional glimpses of the Philadelphia skyline peeking over the trees, reminds us of how close we are to urban life.

Alan Murray is Uncharted’s President and one of its co-founders. To learn more about Uncharted and the new online exploration community we are building, sign up and we’ll let you know when it’s ready. Photos of Alan’s work can be purchased at our shop