Daytrip Discoveries: Willisbrook Preserve

October 17, 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.

Bluebird Box

October is a great time to enjoy the out-of-doors. “HHH” (hot, humid, and hazy) summer days are in the rear-view mirror and the energizing crispness of fall is beginning to sneak into our morning and afternoon sojourns. The gloriously clear-blue October skies have always been my favorite!

My traveling companion for this afternoon, Phoebe Driscoll, Natural Lands Trust President’s Council member, was running late. Starting out behind schedule on a gray afternoon with dwindling light, a bit of disappointment crept into my first fall excursion. Wouldn’t Willisbrook Preserve, near Malvern Borough, be ever-so-much lovelier with bright sunshine lighting our way? How wrong I was!

Recognizing you are at Willisbrook Preserve is a bit of a surprise, as the entrance is tucked-in between manicured fields of the Greater Chester Soccer Association and a growing residential complex next to Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation. But do not lose hope… surprises are ahead.

Serpentine in the parking lot

Walking through the parking lot, the first surprise of the day emerged. Greenish serpentine rock could be seen below the gravel, as if a sleeping dinosaur was welcoming us to Willisbrook Preserve. Twenty acres of serpentine barrens on the property provide rare habitat for many plant species of special concern in Pennsylvania.

Preserve tryptick sign

Walking to the end of the parking area, the Natural Lands Trust sign provided information about Willisbrook Preserve and trail choices. An entrance pathway took me from parking, soccer, and suburbia into a diverse meadow and woodland experience. Crickets chirped, birds chattered. Even without skillful help in identifying the names of the lovely creatures sharing the visit with me, the experience quickly became a delight.

Flagged study area

Hostle Soil sign

An area green-flagged for Serpentine Barrens study was a reminder that unique plants and animals are find refuge in the barrens. The stewardship of these special lands provides a unique opportunity for study.

Meadow path

Fall meadows mature with a profusion of color! The mix of trees and peek-a-boo grasslands is balanced at Willisbrook to provide a varied experience over the 120 acres and four miles of trails.

Pony Cart from the front

Thanks to a trail map and cell phone, my friend was able easily find me on the preserve and we walked on together. In minutes, we crossed paths with other visitors, two-footed and four-footed, enjoying the trails and afternoon breezes.

Phoebe & acorn

Oak & acorn

Phoebe and I were impressed with the mature forest with its plethora of oak trees. She tried to give me a bit of a tree-ID tutorial by looking at the leaf shape, bark, and acorns to help with identification. I’ll need to work on this after “class.” This exceptionally showy tree is a post oak, often found on Serpentine Barrens.


After several looping walks we headed for our cars. We passed one more pastoral meadow view. The light was dimming and the sky remained gray. The milkweed in the field reminded us of the continuing importance and measurable challenges of land protection in a suburban landscape. Development may continue, but we are all-the-more appreciative that wonderful places like Willisbrook Preserve are protected and nearby for us to experience.

Plan your own visit to Willisbrook before the fall color vanishes!