Visiting Petty’s Island before it is open to the public was an amazing, unique experience. I didn’t grow up in a city, I’m suburban through and through. Deer in the backyard, turkey in the road, raccoons in the attic. That’s always been normal for me. Even though my undergraduate school was in the Bronx (Riverdale), we had a secluded campus with raccoons, squirrels, and we were directly on the Hudson River. We had grass to lay on, and I was only 45 minutes away from my wooded home.
Moving to Philadelphia was a culture shock.
Unfamiliar with the parks and forests around Philadelphia (to be fair I do live in Center City) I was suddenly trapped with too many people and not enough trees. Diving into grad school and moving to a new city was enough to distract me, and I was content for a while petting dogs on the sidewalk, watching pigeons bobble along and seeing flowers in flower boxes. The more I settled in, however, the more I realized how much I missed seeing deer in the backyard, laying in the grass, and seeing foxes streak across the street. I did discover Fairmount Park with a friend, and spent several hours laying and rolling in fresh cut grass. Afterwards, I was rewarded with a week long rash on my arms.
I started this fellowship so eagerly to get back outside, and to work alongside people who love being outside, and who loved animals and actually cared about the environment. Going to orientation in the Poconos was amazing, and it was everything I missed about home. However, traveling 3 hours isn’t exactly doable for a weekday trip after work.
Enter Petty’s Island.
A quick trip across the Ben Franklin Bridge on PATCO, and an 8-minute drive from the Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium, and I was in the middle of the most natural land I have seen in a very long time. There were deer, frogs, turkey, all right across the river from the city of Camden. I wasn’t expecting for Petty’s Island to be so unique and natural, considering what I thought I knew of its history. The island had once belonged to the Lenni Lenape tribe, and transferred hands several times. During the 1900’s, ownership was transferred over to Citgo who used the island along with Crowley Maritime Corporation as an industrial site. Citgo had plans to sell the island, until 2004 when it was discovered that two bald eagles were living and nesting on the island.
Citgo teamed up with the New Jersey Natural Land’s Trust, and gave the state an easement, essentially donating the island for free, and also offered money to build a Visitor’s Center, and maintained that no other developments would be built on the island. Most of the industrial equipment has been removed from the island, and it will belong entirely to the New Jersey Natural Land’s Trust in 2020.
The plants and animals have completely taken control of their home again, and the deer showed almost no fear as we walked trails and saw different parts of the island. I love Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square, the two small parks closest to my apartment. Urban environments can at least offer me that glimpse of what I’m used to. On my way home from work, walking through trees, even if its only for a block, is relaxing and refreshing. It’s a break from the concrete that I think everyone needs every once in a while. However, knowing that there’s something this close to Philadelphia is amazing, especially knowing that this is such a special privilege that I only have access to because of my internship at the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River. I am eagerly awaiting the opening of the Island to the public so I can return with friends. Petty’s Island will hopefully be open in 2021 andI know it’s years away, but I am hoping I am still in the area and can visit. I’m so lucky to be working for a place with such a powerful past, but an amazing future waiting for it.