A Vision for the Future: Restoring Petty’s Island
By Margaret Cyr and Courtney Krier
Blossoming spring buds, lush summer greenery, vibrant autumn leaves, and sparkling fresh winter snow—each season in the northeast has something naturally beautiful to offer for those who wish to explore the outdoors. No matter what the season may be, people in the four-state cradle of the Delaware River Watershed are constantly looking for safe and beautiful places to go outside. Accessible open spaces are an area of interest for environmental enthusiasts and organizations alike and, thanks to the collaborative efforts of a New Jersey state agency, the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust (NJNLT), the environmental community, and a private company, one new destination is on its way to being added to the hiking lists of people throughout the Philadelphia metropolitan area—Petty’s Island.
Petty’s Island is a 500-acre island nestled on the Delaware River between Pennsauken, NJ and Philadelphia, PA. The island is full of a wide variety of flora and fauna, as well as boasting stunning views of the river and the City of Philadelphia. While plans to open the island to the public are in motion, it currently remains off-limits, garnering the distinction of being a “hidden gem.” However, thanks to programs organized by New Jersey Audubon and NJNLT and funded by the William Penn Foundation, the public can participate in nature and environmental education programs on the island, such as bird walks, history hikes and volunteer clean-ups, before its expected opening to the public in 2021.
This development of Petty’s Island as a nature sanctuary is recent. CITGO oil company was the owner of Petty’s Island for over 100 years and used the island as an industrial site after the industrial boom started in Philadelphia in the early 1900s. While plans originally meant for the island to be turned into a residential and shopping area adjacent to the City of Pennsauken, these plans were brought to a halt when two bald eagles were found to be nesting on the island. Though bald eagles were removed from the federal Endangered Species list in 2007, they still have federal protection in addition to state protection under New Jersey’s Endangered Nongame Species Conservation Act. Because of this protection, for as long as the eagles remained, no construction could commence on the island. For a while Petty’s Island remained in a limbo of development.
This is when CITGO teamed up with NJNLT and donated a conservation easement over the entire island to them in the interest of habitat preservation. Additionally, since then, CITGO has donated $1 million for the development of an interpretive center on the island and will donate another $2 million to assist in the environmental stewardship of the island. Alongside these donations, NJNLT works with New Jersey Audubon and other supporting organizations to clean up trash, count and monitor wildlife populations, and ready the island for the public as soon as 2021. As of the writing of this blog, 330 cubic yards of trash have been removed from the island thanks to the efforts of these organizations and their volunteers.
People who wish to explore the island when it opens to the public can look forward to spying a vast variety of wildlife. There are numerous rare plants abundantly growing, including the awl-leaf arrowhead, American Waterwort, bouquet mud-plantain, and the water marigold. In addition, one may spot waterfowl and hawks such as the osprey, Northern harrier, Cooper's hawk, red-shouldered hawk, American kestrel, and peregrine falcon living in and around the island as well. Songbirds, such as Savannah sparrow, many species of warblers and other migratory songbirds, also use the cover provided within the island’s woods and wetlands.
Currently the only way to experience Petty’s Island is to participate in a public program organized by New Jersey Audubon, New Jersey Natural Lands Trust, and other partners. These programs include hikes and clean-ups, and the full schedule for 2019 Petty’s Island trips can be downloaded here. Registration for each event opens 4-6 weeks before, so be sure to join the Petty’s Island email list by contacting Kelly Wenzel (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get these registration links delivered to your inbox.
The next public program at Petty’s Island is a clean-up in April. If you are interested in learning more about the work both New Jersey Audubon and New Jersey Natural Lands Trust do on Petty’s Island, please visit this website to learn more.