By Samantha Bucciarelli
Tacony Creek Trail is a wheelchair accessible trail that is almost entirely paved with the occasional mud and debris washing up after large storms posing a bit of an obstacle for those of us who require assistance, but it is an accessible trail overall. That being said, this is an easy level hike for most able bodied naturalists with an elevation gain of only 72ft (if you take the option of the unpaved path near Route 1). The path as it is marked on this map covers 2.5 miles from Crescentville road down to Route 1 and back, but can easily be shortened if necessary since this trail is not a loop. The maps and signs throughout the park are written in both English and Spanish and the watershed website (link below) also features resources in Spanish, helping to make this park friendly to a larger percentage of Philadelphians than most of our other city parks.
This trail is accessible via SEPTA bus routes: 57, K, 18, J, R, 26 and is nearby to the Olney Train Station on the Fox-Chase Regional Rail line.
The trail begins at Crescentville Ave near the Olney Recreation center. Most of the habitat of Tacony Creek Park would be classified as a palustrine flood plain. Floodplain habitat trees typically consist of Sycamore, Box Elder, Black Willow, Elm, and mixed Maples. There are also scattered groves of Black Walnut, Juglans nigra, which may exhibit a phenomenon called allelopathy in which the tree releases a chemical (in this case juglone) to kill off other species nearby that may be competing for the same resources. Near these trees and the brush piles that collect in the floodplains can be a great spot to scout for spring mushrooms, particularly ascomycetes a classification of macrofungi that includes the coveted Morchella spp. Near the trailhead is a floodplain meadow. These meadows produce a variety of herbaceous plants such as Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, Burdocks, Arctium spp., and Mayapples, Podophyllum peltatum. Alongside some of our native herbaceous plants you may find the invasive St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, originally native to Europe, parts of Asia, and Africa. It is now commonly used as a dietary supplement and is claimed to boost overall mood.
The spread out trees, wildflowers, and nearby stream make this area an excellent spot for birding. Included in the iNaturalist project for Tacony Creek are Red-tailed Hawks, Buteo jamaicensis, Indigo Buntings, Passerina cyanea, and the Brown Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater, an obligate brood parasite. Brown Headed Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nest of other passerines, birds in the order passeriformes, allowing mother birds from over 140 other species to raise their young.
The trail continues through a dark tunnel and comes out to a lovely painted bullfrog in the path reading “Love our park.” Continuing down the path to the right are several sizable American Beech trees, Fagus grandifolia. They stand as living records of the terrestrial forests that would have dominated the uplands near the creek before the expansion of the city. American Beech is a species that often represents an ecosystem in the final stage of ecological succession. Ecological succession is the process by which ecosystems change overtime following a disturbance to the land. American Beech is quite particular about its habitat, having high requirements for moisture and drainage and typically being intolerant of urban pollution, making it an important species for recognizing overall forest health. American Beech is also known for having many mycorrhizal partners and is a favorite tree among mycologists and foragers.
Continue on the trail and cross Rising Sun avenue. Shortly you’ll come to an open meadow and the site of some remediation projects where Oaks and Silver Maples have been planted. Silver Maple, Acer saccharinum, is a very important remediation tree because it is a fast growing, short lived treethat can tolerate extreme changes in moisture and help prevent erosion. Nearby in the field you’ll also see a couple Green Ash trees, Fraxinus pennsylvanica. Green Ash provides a critical food source for many of our native amphibians, especially frogs. Unfortunately, the longevity of the Green ash is being threatened by the Emerald Ash Borer, Agrilus planipennis, a jewel-beetle native to Asia whose larvae feed on the inner bark of Ash trees. Unfortunately, the lack of tannins in the leaves of Green Ash is what makes them palatable to both frogs, and the Emerald Ash Borer.
After passing the meadow the trail moves farther upland and the off-trail terrain becomes rocky with dense terrestrial forests of Oaks and Tulip Poplar. This can be a particularly good spot to look for mushrooms among the fallen branches in this area. Several choice edible mushrooms have been recorded in the Tacony Creek iNat Project including Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus spp., White Morels, Morchella americana, and Giant Puffballs, Calvatia gigantea.
Insects seem to be abundant at Tacony Creek and showing quite a bit of diversity with over 100 species of insects and arachnids logged on iNat! Among them are the Eastern Boxelder Bug, Boisea trivittata, who feed on the developing seeds of Boxelder, maple, and ash trees making them very common in ecosystems like this one. Other insects you may come across include the Orange Assassin Bug, Pselliopus barberi, and the Blue-winged Scoliid Wasp, Scolia dubia, who feeds on the larvae of the green June beetle, Cotinis nitida, also seen nearby.
The trail continues toward Route 1 with most of the habitat sticking to floodplains and meadows. There are some very nice nature themed murals painted onto the path as it passes close by the creek near a living, but mangled Black Willow, Salix nigra. This is a nice spot to observe dragonflies and amphibians and it is not uncommon to see people fishing nearby. Several fish have been recorded to iNaturalist here, including Green and Red breasted sunfish, Lepomis cyanellus and L. auritus respectively.
Upon reaching Route 1, we usually begin heading back toward Olney Recreation Center on the same path. Sometimes it is surprising how much you can find on the way back that you may have missed on the way in. Feel free to walk around the Olney Recreation Center upon returning to marvel at the many large oaks that call the area home.
A Brief History: Tacony Creek was once a hunting ground for the Native American Lenni Lenape tribe. The first settlers in the Philadelphia area were Northern Europeans, notably Dutch and Finnish. Despite the creek’s historic names meaning ‘heavily wooded stream’ and ‘uninhabited place,’ the settlers soon began building grist mills along the creek to produce flour. By the mid 1700s several mills were shown on area maps. As the industrial age began to rise, the mills of the area were repurposed and demolished in favor of coal and steam driven machinery. At the time of the industrial revolution, many of the streams in Philadelphia were converted to enclosed sewer systems in an effort to curb the spread of diseases after a series of pandemics devastated Philadelphia. By 1915, the land surrounding the creek was acquired by Fairmount Park Commission and preserved to protect the health of the stream and its wildlife.
Today, Tacony Creek Park is cared for by the Tacony Creek Park Keepers, a volunteer based organization that cares for the park and the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, an independent non-profit organization, originally created by the Philadelphia Water Department to restore the stream. Together they are actively undergoing rehabilitation projects to create a healthy watershed for all of us to enjoy.
For references and further reading:
Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Bird guide: available in English and Spanish