In the early 1600s when Swedish settlers made their first landfall in what is now called Tinicum Township in Pennsylvania, Tinicum Marsh comprised over 5,000 acres. The settlers immediately began to dike and drain the wetlands in order to create farms; nevertheless, the bulk of the wetland acreage remained intact until the mid-1900s when the Corps of Engineers filled over 4,000 acres with dredge spoils from the nearby Delaware River. Ultimate plans for the area included industrial development.
In the 1960s and 1970s, this action was followed by the establishment of two solid waste landfills in the marsh, also planned as the first step in eventual industrial development.
Concurrently with the landfill development, plans were implemented to build Interstate 95 right through Tinicum’s wetlands, resulting in massive dredging and filling, which further reduced Tinicum’s wetland acreage.
Local citizens, alarmed by all these activities, formed a grassroots organization, simultaneously fighting to close the landfills, divert the highway, and persuade the United States Congress to designate the remaining wetlands of Tinicum Marsh as a National Wildlife Refuge.
The highway was diverted, the landfills were closed, and finally in 1972, the refuge was created by Congress.