Quiet but not forgotten: Delaware River piers awaiting changes

A growing Philadelphia is rediscovering spaces most of the city has largely forgotten.

One of those overlooked places is the stretch of Delaware River piers south of Penn’s Landing. This summer, this stretch of riverbank will be transferred to the Natural Lands Trust to become a public park anchoring the southern end of the waterfront bike trail. But some people haven’t forgotten this spot.

That’s evident on a recent day as a catfish thrashes back and forth on the cement in a white plastic bag. For a long time after Naing Tung reels it in, you can see it gasping. The whiskered fish is the biggest catch of the day — but a medium fish to the three Burmese immigrants who fish together off pier 70. “Today I have my day off,” says Karin Sin. “That’s why I’m fishing.”A group of teens has set up a fishing camp at a respectful distance. Jay Pen is watching as Michael Hong ties a hook onto a fishing line. 

“It’s peaceful,” says Hong, explaining why he likes visiting the piers.

Pen agrees.

A world unto itself

On warmer, sunnier days, people bring their kids here to play. Despite “no trespassing” signs, they take well-worn paths from the trail around the wire fences and brush to the piers. A maintained colony of feral and abandoned cats exists on the waterfront side of the trail. Some people say there are hundreds. Groups of the cats spill out when women drive up to fill the tubs of kibble set up along the fences. One of the woman honks her horn at them when she drives away.A few days later, most of the cat installations would mysteriously disappear.The paths are quiet, even just off busy Columbus Boulevard. That’s part of the reason Kathy Pierce is here.”We came back here because it’s private — nobody bothers you, you can set up a tent,” she said.Now homeless, Pierce and her boyfriend have just found spots in a shelter. Just in time, says Pierce. Their belongings are in a couple of boxes and yellow laundry bags.  They’ve lived back in the brush about a month, since her boyfriend had a car accident and lost his apartment when he couldn’t work.”Some other homeless people showed us the ropes because we were sitting under 95 in our car. We didn’t know where to go,” she says. “And to go here was just — it was so much better.”Around the bend, the caseworker from the shelter is on her cell phone, waiting for Pierce. The couple arrives, she gives them a hug and helps them pack up their things.

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