Edit as of December 2016: I’m hearing there’s an increase in police warnings for trespassing at this location. Take care.
Let’s get this out of the way: as far as I know, it’s not technically legal to hike to Graffiti Pier, the remains of a coal-loading dock owned and subsequently abandoned by Conrail in the 90’s. But lot of people do it anyway—including local Port Richmonders like me, who desperately wish we had some kind of public access to the waterfront.
Dressed in a brightly-colored coat of drawings and tags, the decaying concrete structure that sits on what was once Pier 124 has become a popular hangout for street artists, photographers, paintball players, and, uh, underage drinkers. Most pier-goers are friendly, but the area is remote and you should use some caution if you’re planning to explore.
That said, one of my favorite things to do is poke around the woods just north of the pier. Calling them “woods” is a little charitable—this is a young, mangy-looking forest, with lots of plants that thrive in poor conditions. You know the Paulownia tree? A Paulownia is so stubborn it can grow from a crack in a brick wall. And you’ll find plenty of them here, along with their partner in not-giving-a-crap-about-soil-quality, the Staghorn Sumac.
Winding through the weed trees is a network of dirtbike trails, dotted with the occasional pile of illegally-dumped construction waste. Like John Heinz before it, this is an excellent place to trip over a toilet. And while it may not sound like a promising day hike, there’s a surprising amount of wildlife hidden in this little wedge of unused land between the interstate, the railroad and the river. I’ve seen deer tracks, fox holes, ducks and seabirds… in fact, on the very day I’m writing this I had the bejesus scared out of me by a groundhog I was not expecting.
In my dreams, the City of Philadelphia follows the John Heinz model and takes this place from a dump to a fully-fledged pocket wildlife refuge. Until then, hike it at your own risk.
Last updated: December 25 2017