Field Trip: Jenkintown Creek and a Not Quite Vernal Pool

The enhanced pool - Tacony/Tookany-Frankord Creek Partnership, Photo by Donna L. Long.
The enhanced pool – Tacony/Tookany-Frankford Creek Partnership, Photo by Donna L. Long.

The pool lies almost hidden among a grove of trees along a footpath. If you weren’t paying attention you might miss it.

About a week ago, I received a tweet-invite from Julie Slavet, Executive Director of the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partenership, LLC (TT-F). Julie kindly invited me for a tour of the wetland area, the organization enhanced (read: renovated) in 2016. I jumped at the chance to see another “vernal” pool so close to home.

The Tookany/Tacony-Frankford is the watershed I live in. The Tacony Creek is known by Tookany, Tacony and Frankford Creek along different areas of its’ courses. The Jenkintown Creek feeds into Tookany/Tacony- Frankford Creek, The Tookany/Tacony- Frankford Creek is a tributary of the large Delaware River, that forms the eastern edge of the City of Philadelphia. The Jenkintown Creek is a smaller tributary of the Delaware River.

The Lenni Lenape name of the watershed is Quessionwonmink, which means “Eel Skin River.” Tookany/Tacony means “forest” in Lenni Lenape.

The enhanced pool - Tacony/Tookany-Frankord Creek Partnership,
The enhanced pool – Tacony/Tookany-Frankford Creek Partnership, Photo by Donna L. Long.

I arrived at 9:30 a.m. on a Friday morning at the parking lot of the McKinley Elementary School in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Ryan Neumann, Upstream Conservation Leader for the organization was my tour guide. After signing in at the school reception desk, we left the school building and went around the back to the wetland area.

The pool sits in an area that is remembered as always being a wetland. The wetland is the East branch of the Jenkintown Creek. Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership enhanced the wetland by removing debris and planting native trees and shrubs. So, far only one-half of the wetland has been enhanced. The area looks good. It is inviting and clear of debris. It looks like a lovely little grove that woodland creatures would frolic in. I was enchanted.

The pool is in a forested area. The wooded area is a remnant of the original Eastern Deciduous woodlands that covered this upland region of the rolling Piedmont. A botanical survey has not been done on the site, yet.

The un-enhanced side of the wetland at Jenkintown Creek
The un-enhanced side of the wetland at Jenkintown Creek – Tacony/Tookany-Frankford Creek Partnership, Photo by Donna L. Long.

The ground was covered with Virginia Creeper. The Virginia Creeper plant turns a brilliant red in autumn and I bet the area looks specular then. I didn’t have the luxury of several hours to identify some of the plants I saw there. A plant survey is probably a good future citizen science project.

The pool has many characteristics of a vernal pool and some that don’t meet the definition. For instance, the pool dries up in June which is a vernal pool characteristic. It disappears as summer gets into full gear. But the pool is permanently connected to a year-around water source, the Jenkintown Creek. The pool also doesn’t meet the criteria for an absence of fish. So, in that sense, the pool couldn’t be said to be a vernal pool. But, it is still an interesting place to study ecology, plants, and animals.

female Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
female Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Photo by Donna L. Long.

There are fish in the pond. Ryan said he had found minnows, and Dace fish. Dace is a family of slim, active freshwater fish of the carp family. They have species indigenous to North America and Eurasia. Several species make their home here in North America. The presence of fish in the pool disqualifies it for vernal pool status.

But the pool is a breeding site for Green Frogs and Two-Lined salamanders. That makes the pond interesting anyway. I didn’t see any frogs or salamanders on my trip. Ryan said he saw a Blue Heron fishing there once.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) enhanced pool - Jenkintown Creek,
male Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) enhanced pool – Jenkintown Creek, Tacony/Tookany-Frankord Creek Partnership, Photo by Donna L. Long.

While at the pond I saw a breeding pair of mallards, serenely swimming in the creek of the un-renovated area of the wetland.

Tree on washed out stream bank- Tacony/Tookany-Frankord Creek Partnership, Photo by Donna L. Long.
Tree on washed out stream bank – Tacony/Tookany-Frankford Creek Partnership, Photo by Donna L. Long.

Science and Citizen Science at the Wetland

Every quarter, Ryan sends water samples to Stroud Water Research Center here in Pennsylvania. Stroud focuses on understanding the ecology and health of freshwater systems. Ryan also sends macro-invertebrates caught in the wetland to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia for study. The wetland is surrounded by homes, paved roads, and large buildings.

The wetland waters are less than optimal to sustain a healthy and diverse ecosystem.  The current wetland health wouldn’t sustain trout or probably any fish worth fishing and eating. So, there is much work to be done.

Citizen Scientists monitor the Creek, map the area, take photographs, monitor pollution, and note the physical conditions of the area. Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership welcomes citizen scientists. Ryan says,

we love people who take in interest in our creeks and are always looking for concerned citizens who are looking to become more involved, whether it be through project maintenance, advocacy or monitoring. Our stream keepers are a wonderful group, who are always learning more about watershed issues. “

Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership gives tours and holds events related to the various wetland areas it monitors. See their website for current information.

Even if you don’t live in the Philly area, there is probably a water-related project near you.

enhanced pool – Tacony/Tookany-Frankford Creek Partnership,

Here are the addresses and resources related to the post.

Jenkintown Creek and vernal pool, behind the McKinley Elementary School, 370 Cedar Road, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 19027. During the school year, I would be careful about visiting the pool behind the school. Stop in at the school reception desk to ask for guidance on visiting the pool.

Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partenership, LLC (TT-F), 4500 Worth Street, Philadelphia, PA 19124, 215-744-1853.

Stroud Water Research Center, 970 Spencer Rd, Avondale, PA 19311, 610-268-2153

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA, 19103, 215-299-1000

Friends of Pennypack Park (Philadelphia, PA)

Friends of the Wissahickon (Philadelphia, Pa)

Sci Starter

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Philadelphia’s Coastal Plain

Crosswicks Audubon Sanctuary

Vernal Pools

Vernal Pools: Links to Indicator Species Information

How to Photograph Moving Water

Field Trip: Swamp Serenity


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