An osprey flies over trees

An 1880 history of the Washington Avenue Green area described fields of reeds and an abundance of teal, plover, snipe, and woodcocks. Shortly afterward, the site became an active immigration port, and later a busy mercantile port. Shoreline was filled in, trees cut down, docks added, railroad tracks laid down and later abandoned.

In 1965 a massive fire destroyed Pier 53 and the surrounding site. The shoreline and what was left of Pier 53 fell into ruin.

In 1972 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (known as the Clean Water Act) regulated chemical effluents upriver, reducing pollution.

Decades later efforts were put into motion to bring back the natural functions of the waterfront.

When the area was first being considered as part of the Central Delaware Waterfront Corporation Plan, a study was made of the shore site. Native flowers such as the New England aster were identified and re-introduced, as were grasses such as the little bluestem and Joe-pye weed.

ecological restoration sign

purple asters

Monarch butterfly on asters

Atlantic flyway map is from the Audubon Society's website. All other photos by Susan McAninley.

vegetation takes over cement

Stacey Levy's 2012 design for the repurposed Washington Avenue Green makes provisions for filtering polluted stormwater through the park and plans were put in place for floating wetlands. Built into her design is a system called 'dendritic decay' — holes were drilled in the cement slabs of what had been a parking lot and vegetation was planted. The underlying moisture nourishes the plantings so that over time the cement will give way and natural vegetation will take over.

Ironically, after the the Clean Water Act of 1972 was passed, the cleaned-up Delaware River water gradually rotted the wooden piers that had long been preserved by the now-banned chemicals.

Among discoveries were some surprises: there were two species of mussel that had been pronounced extinct this far south on the Delaware, and two species of snakes. Non-native Paulownia trees dot the shoreline. The original Pier 53 was preserved and held together by non-native mulberry trees.

white heron


old ppilings at the end of the Washington Avenue Pier

More than 20 species of fish live between Pier 53 and Pier 78 to the south. Abandoned piers along the river serve as nursery areas for
migratory fish, especially river herring such as the American shad. the alewife, and the blueback herring.
An endangered species, the red-bellied turtle, has been found among the old pilings.

On August 15, 2014 the Washington Avenue Pier was officially opened to the public, making it possbile to see the birds at closer range and to touch the water.

boy and girl at beach on Washinton Avenue Pier

Development is now being done on Pier 68, a few blocks south of the Washington Avenue Pier, extending the wetlands along the river.The project is scheduled to be finished by the fall of 2015. Here is the artist's rendering.

artist's rendering of Pier 68

Washington Avenue Green is part of the Atlantic Flyway and the Delaware River guides the annual migration of a multitude of species. The teal, plover, snipe, and woodcocks may be gone, but other returning species wait to be rediscovered.

Cornell University has a website that updates current bird migration patterns in the area. Click here for more information.

map of Atlantic flyway