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Crow’s Nest: On my winter night table…

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

I have been reading Silas Chamberlain’s On the Trail: A History of American Hiking (2016: Yale University Press). It’s a thoroughly-researched and entertaining book based around a thesis that there was a fundamental change in how Americans approached hiking during the 20th century.

Walking as a leisure pursuit began in the 19th century when people began to have jobs that were not so physically demanding that they had the time and energy to stroll about the countryside, Chamberlain writes, and in the early 20th century organized trail clubs came into being.

These various clubs promoted walking as good for the health, mind and spirit, and hiking was a communal, social activity. Soon these clubs began building trails to better access the mountains, culminating in places like Vermont’s Long Trail, the  Appalachian Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail. But by the 1960’s and 70’s, Chamberlain argues, hiking shifted from being a group activity to one undertaken alone or as a family. Even as total numbers of hikers exploded, the percentage who belonged to trail clubs plummeted. Hikers switched from creators and maintainers of trails to consumers—of hiking gear and of the trails themselves.

Chamberlain was a trail maintainer on the Adirondack Trail Crew and more recently was Director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, so he has the experience working on trails and knows the local trail clubs—which critically still promote and maintain area trails. But this book also has a national scope and nicely draws together the picturesque pastoral movement of the 1800’s to the history of environmental advocacy among groups like the Sierra Club. This book provides valuable insights into how membership in a social movement has changed, with lessons which might be applied to the future.

Crow’s Nest Preserve 25th Anniversary

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


The first parcels of Crow’s Nest Preserve were donated to Natural Lands Trust in 1991, so this year we’re celebrating our silver anniversary, twenty-five years of careful land stewardship, renovation of historic structures, and connecting people with nature here.


In many ways, the land looks the same. The farm fields are still being farmed, the hedgerows and woods are still there, though the trees are taller and have fewer invasive vines dragging on them. One of the purposes of protecting the property from development is to keep it looking the same: still providing natural habitat, hosting functional plant and animal communities, and protecting the water quality of the local streams. One of the challenges of land stewardship is that if we are doing our job well, it isn’t apparent to the casual observer that we are doing anything.

However, the trails are better than they were a quarter-century ago. New and older, well-maintained boardwalks span muddy spots. New plantings of native species have been added here and there. The meadows are mowed annually, hazard trees removed, bluebird boxes installed and monitored, and signs, brochures, and now even a mobile app help guide visitors around the preserve.

Kids grow up and some of them are now helping run our education programs, now more extensive than ever.

Where the most dramatic differences can be seen on the preserve is in the buildings, which—through generous support from donors—have undergone renovation and adaptive reuse to support our mission.


Above, before-and-after photos of the tenant house at the preserve, and below, the same for the Houck house. Both provide housing for staff.


Here are Steve Holmburg and Bob Johnson in the late 1990’s working on the visitor center barn:


Both are very much still here but unlikely to stand still for a photo, so instead I include below a photo of the same location taken today.


The barn which is our visitor center has undergone first stabilization and then transformation, from this…


…to this.


Similarly, the Jacob barn was restored and made into a maintenance shop and storage for the preserve:


And, not the least—the Jacob house which provides housing for the preserve manager and family, as well as an apartment for each year’s intern:


Above, before. Below, after. The photos don’t convey how much work went into these projects!


Among future projects are renovations at the Hartung farmstead near the middle of the preserve (below). The same level of expertise and care will be applied here.


As I mentioned above, our kids’ programs have been around long enough that many of the kids have grown up and some now help with the programs. Fortunately, the staff and volunteers haven’t aged a bit in that time…


How do we sum up 25 years in one weblog post? I can’t. I can say that we have been fortunate to be surrounded by the very best of staff, volunteers, visitors, and supporters during that time.


We’re excited about what the next quarter century will look like at Crow’s Nest Preserve! The best part is that you can come out and enjoy our seven miles of hiking trails, natural habitats, and historic landscapes today!

Crow’s Nest: Beavers on French Creek

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


The other day the Roamers Club came for a hike here and we found this freshly-chewed ash tree along the Creek Trail. Beavers come and go in this stream valley and so this is not entirely a rare sight. In fact, we’ve caged some of the trees we planted along the creek—and many others that were already growing there—so that beavers can’t gain access to them. Over the years we have lived with varying degrees of their activity here, from flooding that lasted a couple years, and a lodge, and a few dead trees. Overall the wetlands they produce make excellent habitat for many other species.

Green Hills: Force of Nature Cleans Up

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


Last weekend volunteers at Green Hills cleaned up this old shed and everything that was in it (sinks, lawnmower, lots of unidentified stuff) and returned this spot to its natural appearance. We also gathered some tires and plastic trash elsewhere on the preserve. This location is not yet accessible from any trails but as we add to the trail system it likely will be.

Thank you all for the good work!

Mariton: November Precipitation

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Precipitation in November was slightly above average. I recorded 3.51 inches of rain (3.29” average).  This is the first time I have had above average precipitation since July.  The weather system that visited the last two days of November gave us about 2.5 inches of rainfall, otherwise we would have seen another deficit month.  For perspective, my November records show a low of 0.92 inches (2012) and a high 5.76 inches (2004).  November doesn’t have the range of variation that other months have.

We are still about 10 inches behind my running average for the year. If (and that is a big IF this year) we get the average 4 inches of precipitation in December, we will wind up with around 42 inches of precipitation for the year.  That is within the spread of annual rainfall over the years, but well below the average 52 inches per year.

So what? I know a few people that are having issues with their wells.  Reservoirs are particularly low this year.  There are things that we can do to conserve water during these dry periods.  During winter, we aren’t watering gardens and using the outside faucets, so we have this illusion that we are saving a lot of water.  One of the easiest ways to conserve water is to run your washing machine only with a full load of clothes.  The same is true for the dishwasher.  I know it is tougher during the winter to take short showers, but it helps conserve your finite water supply.   Indoor plants can be watered with collected rainfall or recycled water.  (Hint:  pour half-full glasses of water and ice into a watering can by the sink instead of down the drain.)   We need to continue to conserve water until the weather patterns change and we start receiving more precipitation.

Green Hills Cleanup this Sunday!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


This Sunday, from 1 – 3 pm, we’ll be loading this junk from the preserve on the truck for recycling and disposal. This is the last of the dumps on the preserve, I’m really amazed at what we’ve been able to accomplish with the dumps here, all thanks to volunteers!

If we have time we’ll fan out and cut vines, pick up old nursery pots scattered in the woods, and dream about a new trail that will lead to this part of the preserve.

Many hands make light work, and this is a good time of year to get back to these remote spots. We hope you’ll join us for this workday. Register online and find more information here.


Crow’s Nest: Hazard Tree Work

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

We’ve had a number of oaks die this summer, and other species that appear to have succumbed to the drought. Additionally, we are being proactive in beginning the removal of the 200 ash trees found along public roads at the preserve (see here for my 2012 perspective on Emerald Ash Borer, and here for an update earlier this year). So we have spent the week with a contractor removing these difficult trees.


With the help of a lift the trees could be topped first, then felled without causing much damage to the surrounding forest.



Other trees, such as this tuliptree below (plus the huge one near the visitor center) were pruned to remove dead wood over the trails.


These last two photos are of a tuliptree that was struck by lighting last year. While it was still alive it showed signs of damage. Trees are easier and safer to remove before the the damage gets worse.



This has been a difficult year for our trees. Each of the ones removed showed signs of stress, insect damage, or were already dead. We were able to leave a couple trunks standing, but short enough not to be a hazard, for insects and woodpeckers to enjoy as food and nesting habitat.

One more day to go on the work today, at Green Hills, where a couple more oaks along the road have died.

Mariton: Seeing Things Differently

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager


From now until the spring I see things in new ways. The leaves drop off and reveal things that have been hidden for several months.  Even things that I have walked by thousands of times can suddenly look new and interesting.  Like this hole in a Hackberry tree along the River Lookout Trail.  I have walked by it numerous times and admired it.  Then one day in the right light I recognized Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

Crow’s Nest: Remembering Frank Hartung

By Daniel Barringer    Photo by Pete Smyrl


It is with great sadness that we share the news that Frank Hartung—Farmer Frank at Crow’s Nest—has passed away. Frank grew up at Crow’s Nest Farm and farmed here like his father before him. Frank was always willing to chat and was very easygoing, even when faced with fixing a broken pin on a tractor or the transmission on the combine.

Frank was rarely seen without a feed cap on, and usually he was not far from a tractor. (The photo above, taken at our wedding, was an exception.) He farmed at night here while working a day job, and when he retired, he had more time to work the land he knew well and loved.

He was willing to create crop strips and sod waterways to reduce soil erosion, even as that meant farming here involved many difficult contortions with his equipment. He also embraced newer technologies of no-till farming in the name of conservation.

He pulled me out of the mud when I got the mower stuck, more than once (and I know I’m not the only one). You could rely on him for a better weather forecast than any meteorologist with an office could give.

We like to credit for our kids’ programs at the preserve shaping the next generation of conservationists. But really, long before we started our nature clubs and summer camp, Frank was shaping generations of kids with an appreciation for hard work outdoors. Many of the local kids over the years worked for Frank, putting up hay and learning responsibility, and then were treated to a meal at the Ridge. Significantly, many of our neighbors, now grown, still know how to operate Frank’s tractors. People in this neighborhood have a strong sense of looking out for one another (think, for example, of people helping each other after a heavy snowstorm), and I think Frank deserves credit for building a sense of community around the farm.

We miss Frank dearly, and his family remains in our thoughts.



Crow’s Nest: Some fall awesomeness

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


It may be cooling down but it’s not winter yet! Here a spotted salamander is hanging out on some leaves this morning.


The low sun illuminates a pasture and bluebird boxes…


And spicebush in the understory glows gold around the springhouse.


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