Daily Local: A sweetheart of a property preserved
NEWLIN – To be sure, it was a good day for Mr. Fox.
Despite the best efforts of the baying hounds, colorfully dressed riders and lathered horses of the West Bradford Hunt, no vulpine mammals were to be found that Sunday at the ChesLen Preserve.
With two friends and their golden retrievers Petey and Charlie, my husband and I — accompanied by Pitch, our exuberant Labrador retriever — traversed a tiny, sunlit corner of the 1,263-acre preserve.
The clarion call of the hunters’ horn warned us to control our canines as a baker’s dozen of hunting dogs and a like number of horses thundered past in a large swale threaded between rounded hilltops and trees already laden with swollen buds.
Asked whether the group had seen a fox yet, the exasperated and mud-spattered hunt master declared, “Nope. And unless we see one soon, this day is done.”
Natural Lands Trust, a non-profit land conservation organization based in Media, Delaware County, owns and manages the preserve. It is pieced together from a 568-acre donation from philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, he of Suburban Cable fame, plus 500 more acres that Chester County donated to the cause, explained Kirsten Werner, Natural Lands Trust spokeswoman.
(Lenfest sold Suburban Cable, with 1.2 million subscribers, in 2000 to Comcast for $6.7 billion. He bought his 568-acre land parcel in 1987 from the King Ranch. The Ranch once included more than 17,000 acres.)
In 2009, Natural Lands Trust purchased another 195 acres from private owners with the support of Lenfest, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Chester County Preservation Partnership Program, and William Penn Foundation. It’s a particularly significant parcel because it contains the Unionville Serpentine Barrens. The Barrens is one of only nine remaining among the 25 that once dotted Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania and New Castle County in Delaware.
A soft greenish-gray stone once commonly used to build houses and other buildings in the region, serpentine is decidedly inhospitable to plants because the soil surrounding it is chockablock with minerals.
“The Unionville barrens is home to 15 rare or endangered plant species,” Werner explains. “These plants have had to adapt to high concentrations of magnesium and nickel in the hostile soil.”
To honor the importance of ChesLen’s barrens, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in 2010 bestowed upon the Unionville barrens its “Private Wild Plant Sanctuary” designation.
The preserve is also home to the indigo bunting, downy woodpecker and green-backed heron, plus 12 miles of unpaved trails, wetlands, native grass meadows, more than two miles of the meandering west branch of the Brandywine Creek, and a potter’s field to the north.
What parking lots exist today are rutted remnants from the Mastopoletto and Sons mushroom cannery that once stood here, says ChesLen property manager Roger Nichols. Nichols managed the Lenfest-owned acreage for more than 20 years, and now serves in the same capacity at ChesLen.
He works out of a dilapidated former cannery building.
All that will soon change, Natural Lands executives hope.
The building will be razed soon to make way for a community center, with space for offices, meetings and storage. Plans are currently before Newlin supervisors. The blueprint also calls for a 1,000 square-foot open-air pavilion next to the proposed new timber and masonry building.
ChesLen is an astonishing place, “a sweetheart of a property,” in Nichols’ words.
John M. Gaadt agrees. A Chadds Ford-based environmental and land-use planning consultant, Gaadt told me that he and his family love hiking at ChesLen.
“It’s an absolutely gorgeous place. Lots of donations, time and effort, plus public and private funds, went into making it possible,” he says.
“ChesLen is a testimony to how private individuals and non-profits can come together and do something wonderful for the community.”
From most vantage points at ChesLen, you see few signs of civilization, save for the human, equine and canine visitors finding their way to the huge, amoeba-shaped preserve. Spring is already in evidence here; during our visit, we saw fledgling soy and wheat plants pushing their way through the soft, rich earth. Mud season is definitely here, if the dirty dogs who accompanied us are any indication.
Natural Lands Trust owns and manages 40 nature preserves totaling more than 21,000 acres throughout eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Seventeen preserves, including eight in Chester County, are open to the public free of charge; others have limited visitation due to sensitive resources or limited facilities, the organization’s Werner notes.
Besides ChesLen, others open to the public in Chester County are Binky Lee Preserve, 112 acres in West Pikeland; Crow’s Nest Preserve, 612 acres in Warwick; Peacedale Preserve, 222 acres in Franklin; Sadsbury Woods Preserve 508 acres in Sadsbury; Sharp’s Woods Preserve, 27 acres in Easttown; Stroud Preserve, 571 acres in East and West Bradford; and Willisbrook Preserve, 125 acres in Willistown. Like ChesLen, Stroud and Willisbrook also contain serpentine outcroppings.
For more information plus detailed maps for each of the preserves, check out the Natural Lands web site at www.natlands.org.
To contact correspondent Sarah E. Moran, send an e-mail to email@example.com.