Trails to Try
A series of articles dedicated to hiking trails in the Philadelphia area
The Schuylkill Center
It seems hard to believe, but you can go hiking and leave city sights and sounds behind, all without leaving the city. The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education has over three miles of trails that loop and interconnect over the nature center’s 340 acres. With something for everyone, the trails vary in difficulty, from the flat, paved Widener Trail to the one-mile Ravine Loop which has some steep sections. Once you leave the paved trail leading away from the nature center, the sounds fall away, leaving you free to enjoy nature in quiet solitude.
The center has outdoor works of art installed on the trails that bring attention to environmental concerns. Through these works, attention is drawn to the ways humans can create and maintain habitats and use best practices to control water and protect the environment. Through the LandLab Program, a residency developed through a partnership between the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, a number of artworks have been installed, including “pvines” a sculpture consisting of steel chains that connect branches of Amur Cork trees with the ground to form rain chains. Stars made of straws and zip ties accent the chains and Virginia creeper has been planted at the base.
Some areas along the trails have been fenced off, though visitors are invited inside. The Native Pollinator Garden includes a diverse collection of plants selected to attract pollinators. Vaughn Bell’s “Welcome Home” provides a home for plants native to early Pennsylvania forests and is designed to demonstrate the impact invasive plants can have on an ecosystem.
The Springhouse Pond, adjacent to the Ravine Trail, also contains native plants and is fenced to keep out the deer. It connects the springhouse to a natural spring. Ruins of a 19th century home remain in the woods above the springhouse.
Other points of interest along the trails are a bird blind off the Widener Trail, the Butterfly Meadow (on clear days, the Philly skyline may also be visible), Wind Dance Pond, Founders Grove and the Pine Plantation along the Gray Fox Loop, and Penn’s Native Acres, an enclosed 10 acre forest designed to look as it did when William Penn arrived.