Daytrip Discoveries: ChesLen Preserve

October 24, 2014

By Dulcie Flaharty, Vice President of Community Partnerships

Dulcie’s “Daytrip Discoveries” represent her quest to visit all 17 of Natural Lands Trust’s publicly accessible nature preserves within one year–an adventure she hopes will inspire others to do the same! Dulcie was the Executive Director of Montgomery County Lands Trust, which merged with Natural Lands Trust in 2012.

Field with equestian #2

It is difficult to say a 1,263-acre preserve is “nestled” anywhere. In describing the bountiful landscapes of ChesLen Preserve, one might more fittingly say that it is “draped” across Newlin Township, resting close to Unionville, with the meandering East Branch Brandywine Creek running along its northern border.

The creation of ChesLen Preserve entails a dramatic story of philanthropy, vision, and adept negotiations which appropriately complements it’s remarkable vistas. We suggest you dive into that story on a cloudy day, not one like the lovely fall day on which we were lucky enough to enjoy our visit.

Enticing my friend Diana Rudloff, an avid birder and lover of the out-of-doors, to join me for the day, I rationalized that visiting ChesLen was akin to going to a “venue that only can be seen thoroughly with a three-day pass”. That reality accepted, together we determined that we would choose to explore a couple distinct landscapes: the wet meadow and the serpentine barrens. We parked at the shared Newlin Township building lot and carefully crossed Route #162, Embreeville Road, to enter the preserve.

Trail welcome over Brandywine

We were welcomed into one of the largest private nature preserves in southeastern Pennsylvania. The early fall agricultural fields could not have been more verdant and the trail before us looped around them, hugging a densely wooded stream corridor. Diana was on the lookout for monarch butterflies, a species in decline in our region over recent years.  The prevalence of milkweed gave us hope; this native plant is the larval host plant for monarchs.

Field with milkweed


We were rewarded with nine sighting of the classic orange and black beauty during our visit!


The meadows and stream banks were still in bloom due to moderate temperatures. There was much to enjoy. The green-headed coneflower and bouncing Bet were happy in their sunny landscape.

Green Headed Coneflower

Bouncing Bet-Saponaria Officinalis

Our loop completed, we decided to again cross the Brandywine and jump into the car. (The morning walk left us ravenous for lunch!) We drove over to the Lenfest Center for an outside picnic. The Lenfest Center, built in 2013, is ChesLen Preserve’s management center and home base for the staff and volunteers based there.

Lenfest Center

Our dessert was looking out at the rolling landscape and enjoying the native plantings around the Lenfest Center… lovely food for the soul.


Lenfest Center green plants

The day had passed more quickly than expected, but I wanted to share with Diana a quick visit to the rare serpentine barrens: Natural Lands Trust has been working tirelessly to restore this unique and threatened landscape. Because of the sensitive ecology, the barrens aren’t on the preserve map, but we got the inside scoop from David Castaneda, the preserve manager at ChesLen.

The site might look a bit messy to the uninformed eye but removing the encroaching woodlands is critical to the site’s restoration.

Restoration of the Barrens

A praying mantis seemed to like the setting just fine and utilized his remarkable skills of blending with his scenery to herald his integration with the surroundings.

Praying Mantis

Amazingly, our five-hour trip to ChesLen Preserve had flown by. Diana and I agreed that a return visit was a must! A subsequent trip might focus on birds or allow us to walk around the large, open agricultural fields. Additional woodland trails might capture our attention. Hmmmm… maybe a three-day pass is just not enough to explore the 1,200+ acres of this remarkable natural resource protected by Natural Lands Trust!

The prefect end to the day came with a stop at the Northbrook Market on Unionville Wawaset Road for a yummy apple cider donut. It doesn’t get much better than this.

If you want to plan a trip to ChesLen Preserve, additional information, directions, and a trail map are available here.