Wheelabrator Wildlife Refuge – Westville , Gloucester County, NJ
Distance: 1.5 miles (one way)
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: 1 of 10.
Total score: 7 of 10.
Terrain – marshland and meadows
Directions – 600 Crown Point Rd (Intersection of Rt 130 and Crown Point Road) Westville, NJ. At that address turn down the driveway (road). Just before entering the gates for the trash incinerator, make a right turn into the Parking lot.
Standouts – Butterfly garden and great views of the Delaware River and Philly.
Markings – None, follow the directions in the description
This is the trash incinerating company’s little wildlife refuge that they put together, and it’s pretty nice (even more so for being next to a trash incinerating plant). It’s so nice we went there twice! The first time my brother-in-law and I got soaked in the rain while stumbling around a trail system we didn’t understand (although we spotted a deer! And poison ivy! And rain!). The second time, I went back along with The Pres after carefully reading Yummygal’s adventure there (and noting that she managed not to end up in a mucky marsh or poison ivy patches).
The front end of the park is very neat and tidy, with a good sized picnic pavilion and a butterfly garden. Head between the two and follow the mown path all the back to the fence. Along the way, look for butterflies and dragonflies in the high grass, and admire the smokestack of the plant.
As soon as you enter the woods, you have two options – right or left. Right is not a real option, it’s a game trail, stay off it! It peters out at rotting logs and what I suspect was poison ivy (I check things out so that you don’t have too!). Go LEFT and follow the fence. You’ll have trees to your right and the fence/factory to your left along this long stretch of trail. A bridge breaks up the monotony a bit. After 0.2 miles, you’ll come to the corner of the fence, where the trail will again split left and right.
At this split, either way is fine to go. For the sake of organization, go right. You’ll walk about 0.1 miles and get a view of the marsh reeds. That’s it, turn around and go back the way you came (again, we headed down into the marsh where there is no trail while looking for one – making mistakes so that you don’t have to!)
Have fun on the side trail? Great! We rejoin the main trail back at the fence. Make the turn and continue to walk right along the trail, over another pair of bridges, until you emerge on a non-paved road.
When you hit the road, make a right AWAY from the fence (don’t cry too much, I know all of the time that you and fence spent together is meaningful, but sometimes you just have to move on). From this point on, it’s a road walk along a barely used road. Admire the meadows and marshes on either side, and make sure to climb onto the observation platforms for slightly better views and informative signs (although some of the signs are pretty sun bleached). The little side trails to these platforms are not always clear, so if you end up mucking through waste high grass, it doesn’t mean that you missed the trail.
The trail will go through several open meadows before turning to follow Big Timber Creek.
Eventually, the trail/road will hook back to the left and run parallel to the Delaware River. There is a platform that’s a little tough to get to, but it’s worth it. There was also a little trail sign for what I assumed was a side trail, but I couldn’t find a trace of it. After checking out the viewing platform, keep on going.
You’ll see a building coming up, with a blue steel building. Turn right in front of the steel box and you can make it onto the shores of the mighty Delaware River. Great views of the Philly skyline, the football and baseball stadiums, the Walt Whitman Bridge, and river traffic from here. You can also kinda spot the Naval Yard, but its mostly around a bend of the river. This spot is worth hanging out in for a while to check out the view, the boat boats, and throw rocks into the river (last two suggestions are from The Pres).
The road goes a little further, but little legs get tired, so we headed back toward the car. Simply retrace your steps down the road, then follow the fence around the Wheelabrator plant to get back to the parking lot.
Overall recommendation: Great little hike, love the platforms with the information, and really love the view of the river. Well worth it.
This area also has a fascinating history as an amusement park. For more info, check out South Jersey Explorer’s post on WHEELABRATOR WILDLIFE REFUGE and also, WHEELABRATOR WILDLIFE REFUGE Part II on the refuge. Thanks to Yummygal for posting about this place, I hadn’t heard about it until I read about her adventures there!