By Samantha Bucciarelli
This is an Easy to Intermediate level hike at 2.12 miles with an elevation gain of 187 ft. Trails, at times become narrow, feature uneven terrain, or have physical barriers (like trees or flooding) that require slight dexterity to pass.
Begin the Hike at Papa Playground heading North along the creek towards Oxford St. At the edge of the forest around the playground you will find a variety of fruit trees, an ideal place to look for spring mushrooms, birds who may be stopping by for a snack, and pollinators.
The hike continues North along the creek through an area that has mostly been taken over by various invasive vines. The vines end near a cross trail marked by a stunning American Basswood tree. Continue North on the trail along the creek. To the left (creek side lowland) is a palustrine flood plain featuring Box Elder, American Elm, Sycamore, and Tulip Poplar trees. Some areas sink too low for trees and become a forest seep, featuring plants like Skunk Cabbage and Jewel Weed.
To the right side of the trail (upland) you will find a terrestrial forest of American Beech, Tulip Poplar, Red Maple, and scattered Oaks. This section of the trail features lots of fallen dead trees, which make great homes for a huge array of creatures including insects, amphibians, small mammals, slime molds and fungi. Feel encouraged to take a closer look at these spaces; they are tiny ecosystems all their own. Please respect these ecosystems by leaving them in place and taking nothing but pictures for iNaturalist.org.
The trail moves upland to 66th & Sherwood (this can serve as an alternative start/end point.) Make a right to head back into the upland forest. This area features a mix of hardwood and fruit trees and is a great place to look for flowers, mammals, birds, insects, arachnids, and fungi. Make a right and then a left to head back down towards the creek.
Pass the Basswood again, this time taking the alternative trail to cross the creek. This section of trail floods occasionally creating a palustrine (wetland) habitat known as a vernal pool, which exist for short rainy parts of year but provide extremely important habitat for many species. Alternate routes may need to be taken for part of the year. Nearby there are wet meadows full of many species of tall grasses. Tall grasses and occasional floods makes this section a prime habitat for observing amphibians and dragonflies. You will also be able to find many interesting wetland plants and birds in this area.
Continue heading South along the West Branch of Indian Creek, making your way back to Papa Playground. Feel free to sit at a picnic table and relax while contemplating or discussing the findings of the day before heading out.
A Brief History: Morris Park was originally a plot of 10 acres donated to the City of Philadelphia by Wistar Morris after his passing in 1891. Morris was the head of a prominent Quaker family, founder of Morris, Tasker & Company, trustee of Haverford College, and director of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Prior to the land being donated, the city had plans to bury the East and West branches of Indian creek to use them for underground sewage with row homes for industry workers built on top. The land sat unused until 1911 when, after the land known today as Cobbs Creek Park, was dedicated as parkland. There were forceful efforts by the Fairmount Park Commision to acquire and protect lands connecting Morris Park and Cobbs Creek throughout the early 1900s. Eventually the land was claimed as eminent domain and officially placed under protection in the 1920s. Morris has faced many challenges to its beauty over the years including an effort to clear the entire park for anti-aircraft installation in the 1940s. The park is currently in the care of Friends of Morris Park, who have many exciting plans for habitat restoration going forward.
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This park is accessible via SEPTA bus routes 105, 65, 30, 106, & 103, light rails 10 & 15, and is nearby to Overbrook Train Station.