Five Places to Escape the Democratic National Convention

Philadelphia residents are accustomed to the flows of tourists visiting the city’s historic sites and scenes, and the upcoming Democratic National Convention is sure to draw thousands of visitors to the storied city. The Cradle of Liberty is a city of rivers, and unless you experience them, you may get swept away by the flood of political conventioneers. So whether you’re visiting for the Democratic National Convention — or maybe looking for a way to escape the hubbub — here are five of our favorite spots where you can recharge along Philly’s rivers.

1. Bartram’s Garden: An Urban Oasis

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Earth Day 2016 clean up at Bartram’s Garden. Photo by Grant LaRouche/NWF

Rising from the banks of the Schuylkill River amidst a rolling meadow is America’s first botanical garden. Offering a serene view of the Philadelphia skyline, Bartram’s Garden is a great trek for anyone who wants to get out of downtown and enjoy an urban oasis. It just opened a new 19th-century flower garden, and offers tours of its grounds and historic house.

In recognition of Earth Day 2016, the National Wildlife Federation partnered with the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) and United by Blue to help clean up Bartram’s Garden. Projects like these are part of our larger efforts to protect and restore the Delaware River watershed.

2. Fairmount Park: a birder’s dream

While the crowds flock to Pat’s and Geno’s to order their Whiz wit, why not check out another kind of flock? Philadelphia’s first park, a designated Important Bird Area, is over 2,000 acres situated along the Schuylkill River and offers an important stopover for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. You can enjoy the many trails of the park, including a 3.8-mile trail that overlooks the Schuylkill that was named one of Philly’s 11 best hikes by Philadelphia Magazine.

Once the training grounds of Philly boxing legends, including Joe Frazer, the East Park section is the future home of Audubon Pennsylvania and Outward Bound Discovery Center at Strawberry Mansion. These two groups have partnered to build an innovative new center to engage Philadelphians on a scenic reservoir that’s been inaccessible to the public for nearly 50 years.

3. Our most urban wildlife refuge: John Heinz NWR

Birds, bugs, mammals, turtles and snakes all call home to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. Bring your selfie stick and hike some of the 10 miles of trails — maybe a bald eagle will pose with you. The refuge is 1,200 acres of ecosystems unique to Philadelphia, including Darby Creek, a large impoundment, a coastal plain, successional grasslands, riparian forests, and the largest remaining nontidal freshwater marsh in the area.

Frog at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

A frog spotted at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Grant LaRouche/NWF

Look for one of the many turtles sunning themselves on the open water habitats, and (if you ask nicely) maybe the Fish and Wildlife Service staff will point out one of the state’s endangered species, the southern coastal plain leopard frog (they won’t, it’s a secret). What they will show you is how to connect urban neighborhoods to nature. Heinz has taken a leadership role in the area, as seen in the recent million-dollar award they received for their work.

4. The Delaware River: time to duck paddle

To get a real flavor of the Delaware River, visit the waterfront at Spruce Street Harbor Park. Anchored by the Independence Seaport Museum (dedicated to the maritime history of the region) you’ll catch dramatic views of the Ben Franklin Bridge and a river walk that lights up at night with food and drinks. You can also see Alison Stigora’s art piece Hydraulica which “popped up” in front of the museum and speaks to your inner water lover.

While you’re there, make sure to paddle your way around the marina on a foot-pedal swan boat or rowboat, or take ferry across the Delaware to visit the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ, home to the pioneering programs of the Center for Aquatic Sciences. Keep an eye out on your left for Petty’s Island, rumored to be a docking point for legendary pirates such as Blackbeard. The island now provides a place for an amazing array of wildlife including raptors, songbirds, and ducks.

Ben Franklin Bridge

Philadelphia’s famous Ben Franklin Bridge. Photo by Grant LaRouche/NWF

5. Take a bike on the Schuylkill River Trail

Sure, it’s fun to stop at the Philadelphia Art Museum and climb the famous Rocky steps, but why not beat the crowds by renting a convenient Indego bike at the base of the stairs? From there take a leisurely ride on the Schuylkill River Trail near the iconic Boat House Row. Named “Best Urban Trail” in USA Today‘s 10 Best Awards, the first-prize-winning path is part of Greater Philadelphia’s multi-use trail network, the Circuit. Along the banks of the Schuylkill River the trail ambles along with breathtaking city views at every turn. But don’t miss one of Philly’s architectural marvels, the Fairmount Water Works, before you set out. The Fairmount Water Works is a National Historic Landmark, a Civil Engineering Landmark, and a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark; it’s an exciting combination of environmental education, architectural history and cultural heritage.


These five jaunts not only offer a chance to reconnect with Philadelphia’s rivers, but they are also all a part of the National Wildlife Federation’s new initiative to unite the Delaware River watershed for safe drinking water. Supported by the William Penn Foundation, we’re bringing together environmental education, recreation, and education centers across the watershed to help more than 15 million people — from the Catskills in New York to the Delaware Bay — protect their drinking water.

Through hikes, kayak trips, art projects, birding excursions, and opportunities to kick back and get renatured, these centers offer a great way to learn about water and how you can help protect it. We’re excited to see this new collective grow, and look forward to our inaugural series of events, called River Days, to kick off this fall. Stay tuned for more info!

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