Wildwood Park and Nature Center, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.
Wildwood Park consists of a large, shallow lake and marsh, with surrounding woodlands and meadows, providing habitat for over 150 different bird species, as well as numerous species of reptiles, insects, and plants.
From its humble beginnings as a swamp at the turn of the twentieth century, to its current status as a magnificent wildlife sanctuary, educational center, and recreational facility, this 212-acre Dauphin County park is truly a fantastic resource for birders and photographers. Wildwood Park incorporates several miles of well-groomed and maintained trails, boardwalks, bird blinds, and interpretive signs.
The park is home to a great variety of wildlife, birds, and plants, which means that local birders and photographers are only minutes away from nature subjects seldom seen in this region.
There are many varieties of waterfowl and wading birds that use the lake as not only a food source but also as breeding site. Wildwood is one of the few places in Pennsylvania that has regular easy viewing of Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and Black-crowned Night Herons.
Birds you can see here include:
Canada Goose, Snow Goose, Tundra Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Sora, American Coot, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Winter Wren, Marsh Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Palm Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson's Warbler, Canada Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow
There are numerous species of snakes, turtles, amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders), mammals (deer, muskrat, squirrels, fox, rabbits, chipmunks, etc.), countless insects, and a wide assortment of plants and wildflowers.
In summertime, the lake is home to an abundant growth of American Lotus, a Pennsylvania endangered species. This water plant covers a great part of the lake with its large pizza pan-sized leaves and brilliant yellow flowers.
Other plants worth seeking include beauties such as Yellow Flag Iris, Swamp Rose Mallow, Swamp Milkweed, and Dutchman’s Breeches.
History and Use
Areas of Interest
Wildwood Park has a nice variety of improved walking trails (macadam, wood-chip) and dirt paths (some with "bog bridges" over the swampy areas, plus two wooden boardwalks, complete with bird blinds (hides) and fixed-focus, permanently mounted binocular scopes. The trails and boardwalks all provide good viewpoints to the resident (and transient) wildlife, without requiring difficult hikes. With the exception of the dirt paths, all the trails at Wildwood are wheelchair accessible.
One of the best trails for viewing a variety of birds, both forest dwellers and wetland birds, is the Towpath Trail, a one-mile wood-chip-covered path on the west shore of the lake. It follows the old Pennsylvania Canal Towpath, with the lake on one side, and the remains of the canal (partially water-filled) on the other. There are many fine viewpoints along this trail and an excellent variety of easily viewable wildlife.
Be advised that most of the trails at Wildwood are multi-use, so in addition to birders, you can expect joggers, walkers, bicyclists, and dog-walkers, particularly on fair weather days. However, if you're willing to get out early before the crowds arrive, you can be assured of some excellent birding.
For the most part, the only equipment required are comfortable walking shoes, a pair of binoculars, and clothing appropriate to the weather. A spotting scope can be handy for scanning the waterfowl on the open portions of the lake, but is not necessary.
Access and Facilities
While you’re at the lake, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Benjamin Olewine III Nature Center. It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition to its educational exhibits, the Nature Center also features an excellent nature-oriented gift shop and a glass-enclosed bird blind overlooking the lake and bird feeders. This is particularly nice during the cold winter months!
There are permanent, indoor restroom facilities in the Nature Center building (only open during Nature Center hours), and at the North and South parking lots (open year-round).
Wildwood Park and the Olewine Nature Center are located at the north end of Harrisburg, situated between Interstate 81, Industrial Road, US 322, and Linglestown Road (Rt. 39). The Park is located close to the Harrisburg Area Community College and the Pennsylvania Farm Show complex.
Friends of Wildwood Lake Nature Center, Inc.
100 Wildwood Way
Harrisburg, PA 17110
Telephone: (717) 221-0292
Fax: (717) 221-0318
E-mail: [email protected]
For driving directions to Wildwood, trail maps and condition reports, recent sightings, and additional information about the sanctuary, see the sanctuary’s site: