By John Chambless

Staff Writer

The star attraction on Saturday morning was a spindly twig about eight inches high, but as it joined hundreds of others along the east branch of the Brandywine Creek, its potential was unlimited.

The planting of the 25,000th tree by the Brandywine Conservancy's Reforestation Campaign brought out volunteers and guests on the morning of April 19 to a strip of land north of Downingtown, just across the Brandywine Creek from part of the Struble Trail. A long stretch of newly planted saplings stretched along the stream bank, each one encased in a protective tube. As the trees grow, their roots will hold soil in place, reduce runoff and filter out pollutants, and some will provide shade that will help fish flourish in the stream. 

The site, just a few feet upstream from the water intake for Downingtown, is a critical spot in the Brandywine. The river ultimately supplies drinking water for about half a million people in Pennsylvania and Delaware. 

Thanks to a wide variety of partnerships and volunteer support, the Brandywine Conservancy's Reforestation Campaign achieved its five-year goal a year early when the 25,000th tree went into place. 

Wes Horner, the senior advisor for water resources for the Brandywine Conservancy, opened an 11 a.m. ceremony as volunteers gathered to share a root beer toast provided by Victory Brewing of Downingtown.

"There's a renewed campaign goal of 50,000 trees planted before the conservancy's 50th anniversary in 2017," he said. The first phase of planting at the East Brandywine Township site, a year ago, added 1,050 trees to the stretch of grass-covered land. An additional 650 were added this year, putting the project well ahead of schedule.

Sherri Evans-Stanton, the director of the Brandywine Conservancy, told the crowd, "About four and a half years ago, we came up with an idea to plant 25,000 trees by the end of this year. As you can see, we are way ahead of schedule. We want to thank all the thousands of volunteers who have been helping us."

Virginia Logan, the executive director of the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art, said, "We're celebrating this milestone by deciding that it's going to be double or nothing. To celebrate turning 50, we're going to plant an additional 25,000 trees. We think that's pretty exciting."

Glen Abrams of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society said, "These trees count toward an initiative called Plant One Million. It's a regional tree-planting campaign covering southeastern Pennsylvania, south Jersey and Delaware. Our goal is to get to 1 million trees in this area by 2020."

Aqua America is a major supporter of the tree-planting initiative. The company's president and CEO, Nick DeBenedictis, thanked the conservancy and volunteers, but said, "the real reason we're doing this is blatant self-interest. Watershed protection helps the Downingtown water supply, and it helps Aqua America downstream, because when we pull from the stream to provide drinking water, it's cleaner to begin with."

Victory Brewing uses water from the Brandywine to brew its famous beers in Downingtown, and Bill Covaleski, the company's president, was at the ceremony to thank the volunteers. "It's great to read about environmental accomplishments in the newspaper, but doesn't it feel a whole heck of a lot better to be part of one?" he said, smiling. "I give tremendous credit to the Brandywine Conservancy and these wonderful partners for pulling us all together."

The reforested stretch of land will be part of a trail being built by East Brandywine Township that will connect to the Struble Trail, creating a large greenway along the Brandywine that can be enjoyed by the public. 

The site, which was once part of a large farm property, "Is a classic case of competition for resources," Horner said. "It's highly valuable land for residential development. This is a place to  do everything we can to preserve resources like this."