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Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Philly getting sustainable makeover, flood protection

While Philadelphia is known for many distinctions, far too many Philadelphians don’t realize that we lay claim to one of the largest urban natural wildlife refuges in the country. We’re not talking about Fairmount Park. In fact, we’re talking about the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge, which sits peacefully in Southwest Philly and Tinicum Twp. amidst the roar of aircraft from the airport and the din of tractor-trailers from I-95. Now is an exciting time for the refuge, as it is finalizing steps to become even more sustainable and protect itself against flooding.

This week the wildlife refuge is completing an energy efficiency project. This means the Cusano Environmental Education Center will be getting new solar panels by the end of the week, according to Gary Stolz, the refuge manager. Stolz says that these solar panels, combined with the refuge’s existing sustainability efforts, means 80-90% of the facility’s power will be solar or geothermal. What’s even more interesting is that Heinz was able to pay for the recent batch of solar panels using internal funding.

Stolz also says that the refuge is almost finished with its efforts to protect against flooding. “We’re re-building the dike road along the Darby Creek,” he points out. He adds that the road, which has existed since the early Swedish and Dutch settlers, has been raised about three feet in the last couple of months. While Stolz confirms that the road still needs some cosmetic work, it should be completed shortly.

Finally, the refuge is working on repairing a boardwalk that was severely damaged last year because of Hurricane Irene. The boardwalk is currently inoperable due to safety issues, but it should be ready for action in about a month. 

The John Heinz Wildlife Refuge is a 1,000-acre preserve that is home to migratory birds, fish, deer, opossums, and even foxes. In addition to being one of the largest natural wildlife refuges in the U.S., it contains the largest remaining freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania. The Cusano Environmental Education Center holds the pulse of the reserve, and is popular for classes and environmental fairs. Cusano is built mostly of recycled materials, such as beams from old shipyards.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Gary Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
?Photo courtesy of Michael Weaver 
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