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Posts categorized ChesLen Preserve.

At the natural playground…

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

I have been off this week at home with our son. We’ve done plenty of work around the homestead at Crow’s Nest, building a new raised garden bed, planting (and watering!) trees, and moving our cattle to fresh pasture. (We also worked on learning to ride a bicycle, built Legos, and cooled off in French Creek, which is make-me-scream cold, perhaps 30+ degrees colder than the air temperature mid-afternoon.)

Today we took our puppy to an veterinarian appointment and I found myself not far from NLT’s Cheslen Preserve. Why not visit Ollie Owl’s Nature Play Ground there? I mean, tonight is Friday Night Lights (sold out!) but things should be quiet there this early in the day.

I have been to the playground in a professional capacity, looking at its design with colleagues. But I hadn’t yet visited with a child. I’m pleased to report that it was a hit.

First we stopped at the restrooms (thank you!). Then I was happy to find that dogs (leashed!) are allowed in the playground. That was a relief since there was no way to leave a dog in the car in today’s heat. I hadn’t planned the side trip but did have water, leash, bowl, and treats. We stopped to admire the native wildflowers at the visitor center. I know how much work staff and volunteers put into these beds and it really has paid off!


After we walked down into the beech forest hollow where the playground is located Owen and I walked around to each of the features and read all the signs. There was nobody else there, but he was content to try out the teepees, log bridge, seesaw, stumps, and musical instruments. Below, the dog mugs for the camera (note the leash!).


The way the playground was really a success happened after I sat down out of the way and Owen explored on his own. It’s not a flashy place but kids will find plenty to observe and do there. He looked for earthworms, swung from a grapevine, and crawled into a hollow tree. It made a great excursion on an otherwise chore-driven day.




Prescribed Fire Conducted at Unionville Barrens

By Daniel Barringer, Prescribed Fire Crew


This week Natural Lands Trust’s prescribed fire crew conducted its fourth burn of this spring, this time at Unionville Barrens at Cheslen Preserve. This habitat of rare plants depends on occasional fire to maintain the conditions which allows them to survive. Over the last century this site has not experienced fire and from aerial photographs you can see that the habitat area has shrunk to just a few small openings in the forest. Our plan is to gradually introduce fire and open up these areas to sun. Fire also reduces the organic matter on the site, creating the conditions where these rare plants can compete.

In the photo above, Preserve Manager David Casteneda (in the foreground) has just finished lighting a line of fire and is watching its slow, backing progress. In the background Erik Stefferud of Longwood Gardens who volunteered the day with our crew and Luke Hamilton, Idlewild and Saunders Woods Preserve Manager (both former Crow’s Nest interns) are holding the line with backpacks of water and rakes.


Some of the Serpentine barrens has reverted to woodland which means there are much heavier fuels that can ignite. Standing snags are the most dangerous, as they can cast embers great distances and ignite fires outside the intended burn unit. Above, Jarrod Shull has the not-so-enviable task of cutting down the still-burning trees. Amazingly, the exhaust of the chainsaw blowing on the trunk adds enough oxygen for the embers to flare up. Once on the ground, the crew scrapes the smoldering wood with hard rakes and a little water, cooling and separating the fire from the fuel.

It’s been a dry and challenging spring and we were fortunate to get these prescribed fires accomplished. If you’ve been to Crow’s Nest lately you may have seen how quickly our meadows have greened up since our prescribed fires almost a month ago. At Cheslen you will also be amazed to see how the vegetation responds.

Crow’s Nest: Luckier than it looks

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


This is probably not the kind of photo you’d expect to see on this blog. But there is a story here about good fortune, generosity, and skill. If a person is going to break down in an aging Natural Lands Trust preserve truck, let it be at ChesLen Preserve.

I arrived Wednesday for a habitat management meeting at ChesLen, a central location for the parties involved, and there was smoke pouring out of the left rear wheel well. I had driven the truck so that I could also pick up a box grader from our Stroud Preserve for grading gravel driveways—we always try to combine trips for efficiency.

Fortunately Preserve Manager and mechanic David Casteneda was in his workshop that morning, and offered to take a look at it. By the time I got out of the meeting he had already purchased a replacement brake caliper and was installing it. The rubber seals around the pistons had degraded, dirt got in behind the piston and wouldn’t let it retract.

David had stopped all his work to get me back on the road. And he said, the brake pads come in sets of four, so let’s do the ones on the other side too, that will be one less thing to do when it gets inspected.

By lunchtime I was back on the road and brought the road grader back to Crow’s Nest. This isn’t the first time David has come through for me. I recall a late Friday afternoon once when our mower broke down and he fixed it and had me on my way so that the mowing could resume immediately. Thanks, David!

It’s pretty wonderful to be a part of an organization of people who have varied skills and who are generous with their time.

Daytrip Discoveries: ChesLen Preserve

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.


Staff Meeting at ChesLen Preserve

Yesterday we held our first staff meeting in the new Lenfest Center at ChesLen Preserve. It’s a beautiful space in a beautiful preserve, and we took advantage of the good weather to take a hayride to see a portion of the preserve and the Stargazers’ Stone. Molly Morrison and others presented information about the facility and events being planned there.



Below, Diane Rosencrance discusses with Steve Longnecker the plantings that will grow around the arbor. Diane designed the planting and with some help planted it yesterday.


If you would like to check out this space it will be opening to the public in a little more than a week. Sunday, June 16 will be the Lenfest Center Community Day. There will be building tours, preserve walks, refreshments, and activities for the whole family. This event is free and pre-registration is not necessary. Drop by anytime between 1:00-4:00 PM.

Lenfest Center Community Day is part of a weekend-long celebration of the completion of the facility and philanthropists Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest, whose generosity made the facility possible. An evening of cocktails, music, and star-gazing in the Lenfests’ honor will also be held at the Center on Saturday, June 15. Proceeds for the event will go to ChesLen-based land conservation efforts. For tickets and more information, click here.

The Lenfest Center provides offices and maintenance facilities for the preserve’s management staff, as well as gathering spaces for visitors, volunteers, and local community groups.


Unionville Serpentine Barrens plant conservation

Posted by William Ryan, NLT researcher

Last October, as we counted the last of the warm days of Indian summer,  seeds were ripening and dispersing at the Unionville Serpentine Barrens. Acorns were dropping, and the grasses were preparing their offspring for a wind-born adventure. A certain grass species was on the minds of Natural Lands Trust’s scientific advisers and researchers. Its name is Bouteloua curtipendula (surely a mouth-full even for botanists), more commonly referred to as side-oats grama.

side-oats gramma close-up Roger Earl Latham

side-oats grama
(Bouteloua curtipendula)
(photo: Roger Latham)

Bouteloua curtipendula Big Hollow

Side-oats grama is one of the many uncommon native grass species found at the Unionville Serpentine Barrens (photo: Roger Latham)








In Pennsylvania, it is found rarely in a few specific habitats and localities, such as calcareous clearings in central PA, and on the serpentine barrens of Chester County. So here we found ourselves last year, on a crisp early autumn afternoon – low humidity and plenty of sunshine – two desirable conditions for grass-seed collection. Permission was secured to collect seed from a fragmented population of side-oats grama on private property directly adjacent to our ChesLen Preserve, which encompasses a critical part of the Unionville Serpentine Barrens, a globally rare ecosystem.


side-oats grams collection

Side-oats grama collection in one of a half dozen small patches at the Unionville Serpentine Barrens 

hand holding side-oats grams

The plants could easily be identified by their unique seeds – all facing one side.










The purpose of our seed collection endeavor was to initiate a propagation program for some of the rare species found on the barrens at Unionville – of which there are at least 19, according to the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program. An arrangement was made with Mt. Cuba Center, in Hockessin, DE, to have them attempt to grow 500 plants, to be used in a carefully planned and monitored introduction to suitable habitat on the NLT-owned portion of the barrens. After clearing nearly ten acres of forest surrounding the shrinking grasslands in September, to be followed by a prescribed burn later this year, the area will be ripe for planting native grass and wildflower seeds, along with the side-oats grams plugs – products of Mt. Cuba Center’s propagation efforts.

small grassland remnant

Late summer 2012. Although small, these grassland remnants serve as refuges for populations of rare plant species.

grassland and grassland restoration areas

In the foreground lies existing serpentine grassland; in the background, potential grassland in a newly cleared portion of the barrens.










We were able to collect a significant amount of seeds, and we left with a very light paper bag filled with a valuable substance –  the unique genetic stock of one of only four occurrences of  side-oats grama on serpentine soils in Pennsylvania.



paper bag filled with grass seed

This amount was collected in just a few minutes.

collecting side-oats grama on slope

A small patch growing on a steep slope above Serpentine Run.









The plants were delivered for drying and preparation by Mt. Cuba staff, and within weeks were in trays under warmth, moisture, and light – spring right after fall. We had heard that side-oats grama could be difficult to propagate, and could be subject to low seed viability, but we waited patiently for their awakening from the soil – coaxed by artificial lights, mist, and heated beds. By December,  a few dozen seedlings had emerged, and were transferred from flats to individual growth chambers – 8 inch deep tubes that facilitate the growth of a healthy root system.

side-oats grama - first batch

The first crop of side-oats grama emerged soon after they were sown in late-autumn.

second batch of side-oats grama

The second crop emerged in January, and were growing nicely by late-winter.









In addition to this first wave of growth, nearly a hundred more seedlings emerged over the winter. This exciting news will be even more exciting when we install the plants this year. A monitoring protocol will be established and executed, to track the survival and health of the young plants. We will report our results to NLT’s Conservation and Stewardship Departments, and Mt. Cuba Center’s greenhouse staff. Our goal is to continue to propagate  these rare species, and continue building partnerships with like-minded organizations and landowners who appreciate the importance of the conservation and stewardship of our region’s unique biological resources. Perhaps someday soon we will collect seed from these very same plants, and continue to help Bouteloua curtipendula and many other characteristic serpentine barren plant species thrive in this fascinating ecosystem in Unionville.


Full Moon Hike at ChesLen Preserve

Sunday, October 28 (rain date, Monday October 29)
6:15 PM – 8:00 PM
ChesLen Preserve, Coatesville, PA

Join us for a leisurely hike at the ChesLen Preserve by the light of the
full moon. Natural Lands Trust volunteer and researcher
William Ryan will be your guide as we will stroll through a beautiful moonlit meadow, listen for owls and other nocturnal creatures,
and stop by the Chester County Poorhouse cemetery. The cemetery is just one of a number of historic features present at Cheslen.

Light refreshments will be offered at the end of the walk.
Adults and families welcome. Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to .

Parking is located at the entrance to the preserve on Route 162 just east of Stargazers Road – look for event signs and the stone bridge.

Wild Wanders at ChesLen Preserve

Weekly on Sunday mornings, beginning July 1
8:00 – 10:00 AM
ChesLen Preserve, Coatesville, PA

Please join us at ChesLen Preserve for our weekly naturalist walk led by William Ryan, local naturalist, educator, and Natural Lands Trust volunteer. The walks will vary from week to week and will focus on all that is blooming, hopping, crawling, and flying at the preserve. The walks will flow at a leisurely pace and wander through grasslands, woodlands, and the preserve’s rare serpentine barrens.

The program is free and all ages are welcome. No preregistration required. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a snack and a passion for nature! Meet at the ChesLen parking area at 1199 Cannery Road, Unionville, PA.

Walks will proceed in light rain or misty conditions but will be canceled in case of downpour or thunderstorms.


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