New Jersey Butterfly Club

A chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA)

Wheelabrator Refuge

by Chris Herz

County: Gloucester.

Municipality: Westville Borough.

Directions: Coming from the north driving southbound on route I-295, as you approach I-76 and Philadelphia keep in the two right lanes toward the Delaware Memorial bridge. Take exit 23 for US 130 N and in 1 mile make a left into the Wheelabrator Gloucester waste-to-energy facility entrance opposite Hazel Ave in Westville, just south of Big Timber Creek. There is a small wildlife refuge sign here as well.

Important note: If you are using either Google or Apple Maps for navigation, you must search for "Wheelabrator Gloucester" as the refuge parking is off the plant entrance road. Searching for the name of the refuge produces inaccurate results.

Parking: Yes. Proceed along the entrance road as if driving into the plant, but just prior to the check-in kiosk, turn right into the gravel parking area by the fenced butterfly garden.

Nearest sizable town: Westville. Gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants can be found along US-130 and NJ-47.

Habitats: 150 acres of wetlands, meadows, grassy fields, a butterfly garden.

Maintained/Marked trails: Yes. An easy, flat trail takes you through woods and open areas.

Restrooms: None. The closest restrooms are at Red Bank Battlefield Park in National Park, 100 Hessian Ave., National Park, NJ, about 4 miles away.

Picnic tables: None, although there is a bench in the butterfly garden.

Notable species: Falcate Orangetips in early April, Variegated Fritillary, Monarchs, Common Buckeye, Viceroy, various grass skippers. Giant Swallowtail has been found closer to the river, Sleepy Orange has been sighted, and recently a Striped Hairstreak was recorded as well.

Best time to visit: Early April through September. Deer flies can be bothersome in June into July.

Exploring Wheelabrator Refuge: The Wheelabrator Gloucester waste-to-energy facility has a small parking lot with a fenced butterfly garden and nature trail that leads you around the perimeter of the plant and continues onto a road towards the Delaware River.

Butterfly garden: The garden was planted by a local Boy Scout troop many years ago, but it is no longer maintained. A birch tree and willow tree here provide some shade. Arrowwood Viburnum shrubs flank both gates. Local butterfliers try to keep up with weeding, and even workers from the plant occasionally help with larger tasks. Some native nectar plants and butterfly host plants have been added since the initial installation, but no water source is available to water new plantings. Maryland Senna, Butterfly Milkweed, Clustered Mountainmint, Purple Coneflower, native honeysuckle, and passionvine are more recent additions, and some Canada Goldenrod has moved into the garden. One remaining Butterfly Bush is worth scanning for grass-skippers such as Zabulon, Peck’s, Sachem, and Broad-winged. A small artificial pond attracts Green Frogs and dragonflies.

Trail: Common Milkweed can be found in patches along this trail and when in bloom should be checked for butterflies, as should Spotted Knapweed and some planted Black-eyed Susans. Some oaks, Sassafras, Southern Catalpa, Wild Cherry, and a few Common Hackberry trees grow in the woods and along the trail. The road along the river and inlet can be good in spring and fall migration for seeing warblers and other migrants as well as various butterflies. Woodcocks may be heard in the field near the parking lot in March, but the field is getting overgrown. It is just over two miles to walk out to the river and back. The powerline cut is an alternate path to walk when mowed, but this isn’t advised when grass is tall as ticks and chiggers are plentiful.

Special precautions: Be wary chiggers, ticks, and poison ivy. Long pants recommended.

You might also want to visit: Riverwinds Nature Trail, and the butterfly house at Red Bank Battlefield Park.

To view a larger map, click on 'View larger map' icon in upper right hand corner. (Tip: The satellite view may also suggest good potential butterfly habitat to explore.)

Entrance Sign

Entrance signs off Rte 130.

Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden.

Garden Pond

Garden Pond.

Covered Pavilion

Covered Pavilion.

Trail to River

Wooded Trail to Delaware River.

Powerline Cut

Powerline Cut.