Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Open Space Preservation in Chester County, Pennsylvania

In April at Arboreality I shared my explorations of the Kirkwood Preserve, a local nature preserve here in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I stumbled upon the Kirkwood Preserve quite by accident while exploring. My curiosity to learn more about the preserve connected me with William [Bill] Gladden, director of the Open Space Preservation Department for Chester County.

Bill and I had a chance to meet earlier this month. We took some time to discuss the functions and goals of the Open Space Preservation Department, and ventured out to visit two of the eleven-strong preserves located around Chester County.

Our first stop was Sadsbury Woods Preserve, a beautiful piece of forest consisting of the “largest remaining, un-fragmented woodlands in Chester County” (according to the brochure). What started with a 160-acre parcel has grown into over 430 acres of contiguous preserved wildlands. It was a beautiful introduction to the Department’s many achievements.

The Open Space Preservation Department works with private conservation groups to preserve natural lands around Chester County. Sadsbury Woods Preserve is managed by the Natural Lands Trust, just as the Kirkwood Preserve is managed by the Willistown Conservation Trust.

These joint efforts combine public interests and funds around the common goal of preserving wildlands in the area. At its most fundamental level, the Open Space Preservation Department represents one of the more ideal intersections of community values, private organizations, and government programs to sustain the quality of life for local citizens and wildlife.

The Open Space Preservation Department manages three primary programs, each with a specific land-use focus: the Agricultural Preservation Program, the Municipal Park and Open Space Acquisition and Development Program, and the Conservancy Program (Preservation Partnership Program).

According to the Chester County Open Space Preservation Department website,

The programs are designed to preserve the most productive non-irrigated agricultural soils in the world, provide adequate local and County park and recreation opportunities, preserve significant natural areas, and encourage revitalization of developed areas.”

The Department of Open Space Preservation was formed in 1989 when residents of Chester County rallied community support for a centralized, focused effort to preserve wild and agricultural lands around the county in the face of accelerated urban development. The Chester County Commissioners’ office allocates funds from local taxpayers and state funding to support the Department’s efforts to preserve land under its three focus programs.

As director of the Open Space Preservation Department, Bill sees himself as responsible for ensuring that people at all levels – from citizen to commissioner – see the value and the investment in preserving local wildlands.

According to Bill, it is critical that people not only find the tangible, meaningful benefits of open space preservation, but that the Department operates with maximum transparency, allowing everyone to clearly understand how their investments of money and time have resulted in genuine community benefits.

Bill explains, “If people don’t find the value [in the efforts to preserve open space], then I haven’t done my job.” According to Bill, trust and communication are essential to maintaining a clear, open connection between private and public organizations, and ensuring that there are tangible public benefits for everyone to enjoy.

Our second stop was at Stroud Preserve, also managed by the Natural Lands Trust, and representative of the diversity to be found among the many preserves in Chester County.

Stroud Preserve includes 574 acres of a unique cross-section of grass, wet, and wood lands. Growing from the original 332-acre parcel bequeathed by Dr. Morris Stroud, the Stroud Preserve has incorporated the 120-acre Susan Groome Harney Preserve, the 47-acre Harney and Baker Preserve, and an additional purchase of 75 adjoining acres to make it the diverse and beautiful expanse it is today.

Stroud Preserve offers the Stroud Water Research Center for scientific research, the remnants of a 19th century Main House and Barn complex, beautiful wetlands, rolling hills, and ever-expanding swaths of trees and shrubs.

As we walked, it became evident that the Stroud Preserve is an active and valued component of the local community. Bill explained some of the unique cultural attributes of Chester County which have contributed to its ongoing success with open space preservation.

There are at least 12 private and not-for-profit conservation groups operating in Chester County. This emphasis on conservation is likely the result of a historical local interest in land use (including agriculture, hunting, sport, and a love of the land) which long predates the modern-day development boom.
Bill also speculates that influence from the local Brandywine Valley has also helped sustain a common interest in conservation. Artists have shared images of the Brandywine Valley with the world, prompting a public interest in preserving its natural heritage.

The Open Space Preservation Department has established a standing goal to preserve roughly 5,000 acres each year, keeping it in acre-for-acre step with the average rate of urban development for the county. On average, the Department has managed to maintain that goal.

The preserves have sometimes been referred to as the “Second Park System,” or the “Invisible Park System,” and visiting even one of the preserves clearly affirms that analogy. Amid one of the fastest growing regions in one of the densest parts of the nation, citizens, private groups, and government agencies are working to ensure the quality of life for the public community both now, and for the future.

If you would like to learn more about the Open Space Preservation Department, be sure to visit their website, and the website for the Chester County Board of Commissioners.

The Chester County Nature Preserve Guide is now available online as a .pdf.

You can also learn more by visiting the websites of some of the other groups who partner with the Department in the preservation of local lands:

Brandywine Conservancy
Brandywine Valley Association
East Bradford Township
East Brandywine Township
East Goshen Township
East Marlborough Township Land Trust
Fair Play Foundation
French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust
Green Valleys Association
Kennett Township
Kennett Township Land Trust
London Britain Township
London Britain Township Land Trust
McLean Contributorship
Natural Lands Trust
Open Land Conservancy of Chester County
Pennsbury Land Trust
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development
Red Clay Valley Association
The Nature Conservancy
United States Department of the Interior
Wallace Trust
West Pikeland Township
William Penn Foundation
Willistown Conservation Trust
Willistown Township


  1. This is very impressive...the work, the accomplishment, the dedication of the people....just fantastic.

  2. Michelle, I heartily agree! This is something I'd love to see happening in every neighborhood. In a region that is growing as fast as Chester County, it's good to see the community supporting conservation in their own backyards.

  3. Very interesting. It is wonderful when we stumble upon something, expecting nothing, and finding a treasure.

    Does your local newspaper know about your blog? I think it would have great interest to those in the city. Bet there are so many treasures that people do not know about.

    Wishing you a happy 2007.

  4. Happy Holidays JLB and best wishes for 2007!!! Just checking in...

    Huggs, Geraldine

  5. Bonne et heureuse année 2007, bon réveillon et à l'année prochaine !


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