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Now is the perfect time to Explore John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

Damage from Hurricane Isaias earlier this year forced John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (JHNWR) to close entirely. Severe flooding damaged the boardwalk across the impoundment, and high winds knocked down trees across the Refuge, making some trails inaccessible. 

The entire Refuge recently reopened, but depending on when you visit, you may encounter temporary trail closures. Updates should be posted on the sign-board at the main entrance, but it’s best to follow the JHNWR Facebook page or call the Refuge ahead of your visit. The visitor center was closed prior to the storm and remains closed due to the ongoing health crisis, but the outdoor bathrooms near the main entrance are open. 

We spoke to Mariana Bergerson, Deputy Refuge Manager at JHNWR about what has been happening at the Refuge and what visitors can expect to see this time of year. “You can see deer, fox, and hawks,” said Bergerson. The annual bird migration is wrapping up, but many native species remain throughout the Refuge. “Even though we’re not at peak migration where we have the highest number of species, there is still plenty to see while visiting the Refuge.”

The vibrant fall foliage is peaking, and you can catch a last look this weekend before the leaves really start to drop. “We’re probably at our peak. It’s pretty colorful and beautiful right now,” says Bergerson. You can use this link to hike to an incredible spot in the Refuge where you can see the fall colors with the Philly skyline in the background! 

Most of the events at JHNWR are virtual due to the pandemic. Bergerson told us to keep an eye out for future in-person volunteer opportunities for seasonal trail maintenance throughout the winter and to follow the Refuge on Facebook for regularly scheduled virtual programs on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1pm. Bergerson also mentioned that the Refuge will be closed for a few weekends for their annual mentored archery deer hunt. If you plan to visit this month or in December, check their calendar for information about closures related to the hunt.

Bergerson encourages visitors to bike to the Refuge. “We have a number of bike racks,” Bergerson said. “You can ride here, lock your bike up and go for a walk.” She also says she wants to make sure the JHNWR’s neighbors feel like the Refuge is part of their community. “Folks walk from the Eastwick community right across the street,” Bergerson said. “There’s not a lot of greenspaces in this part of the city, so it’s a chance to escape and get away from all the pressures of everyday life and go for a walk and enjoy fresh air and views.”