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Land conservancy group looks forward to another busy year

12/31/2014 08:02AM ● Published by Richard Gaw

Through its many internship programs, the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County gives interns actual field experience.

In many ways, the Dec. 8 agreement that was reached between county commissioners Ryan Costello, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell that officially transferred the ownership of the historic Chandler Mill Bridge to Kennett Township has been the most important document the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County [TLC] has ever helped influence.

Yet, to TLC Executive Director Gwen Lacy, the document is barely a fingernail dent into what has been a watershed year of activity and progress, when just about everything the group had worked so hard for came true. An overview of TLC's accomplishments in 2014 reads like a love letter to the rolling hills and valleys of southern Chester County: land management of four local nature preserves; partnering with the state to train Pennsylvania Master Naturalists for the third consecutive year; expanding local outreach with additional environmental education programs; conducting nearly 100 programs and events; and drawing more than 3,000 participants to TLC activities. 

But it's their work on the bridge that everyone keeps talking about.

The road to the signing of Resolution No. 60-14 began nine years ago, when the TLC first began to enter the fray of conversation – some would say, a very heated conversation – as to what the future of the bridge should be. The bridge, which was built in 1910, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was closed to traffic on May 6, 2011, due to extensive structural damage. Some supervisors and township residents believed that the bridge, owned by Chester County, should be rebuilt as a modern, two-lane, two-way structure – a project that would have taken for to six years to complete.

Meanwhile, the TLC fought to preserve the bridge as a pedestrian-only structure that would provide an important piece of the expanding Red Clay Greenway Trail, a connecting link of natural walkways that it helped establish.  

“There were fits and starts in our progress, but the good thing about having a consortium of dedicated people was that when one person was down, the other was up,” said Gwen Lacy, TLC executive director. “If we were coming down from doing a presentation that was then squashed by a vote, luckily someone else would pick up the charge. It was all done in a spirit of cooperation.”

By a vote of two to one, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors voted at its Nov. 5 work session to enter the township into negotiations with Chester County to obtain the title and ownership of the Chandler Mill Bridge, for the purpose of refurbishing it.

With the signing of the Dec. 8 document, the bridge now belongs to the township, and as 2015 gets underway, there won't be too much time for the TLC to celebrate.

“Now that we know that the bridge will be historically rehabbed, we have to celebrate that, but now it's time to make the bridge a part of the Red Clay Greenway Trail system,” she said. 

While the TLC hammers out a compromise of the township that will re-open the bridge as a pedestrian-only structure with access made for emergency vehicles, their negotiations with neighbors in the vicinity of the bridge may change the course of natural history in southern Chester County for decades to come. 

Through the generosity of a local landowner, 45 acres of private conservation lands on the family's property adjacent to the historic Bucktoe Cemetery will be donated in order to form the Chandler Mill Nature Preserve. The gift will also include perimeter trail easements along Chandler Mill and Bucktoe roads, and links to the Red Clay Greenway. In addition, through the TLC, the township will also receive a $100,000 endowment for the continued maintenance of the pedestrian bridge. The TLC will also purchase Walnut Hill, a historic bed & breakfast inn at the base of the bridge, and convert the home into its headquarters as well as open an interpretive nature center there, called the Chandler Mill Nature Preserve.

As 2015 gets underway, TLC plans to finalize for easements in the area for grant funding –  two in Newlin, one in Londonderry and one in Kennett Township that total 85 acres, which is well on the way to TLC's goal to place conservation easements on 100 acres in southern Chester County county every  year. 

The group is also proactively involved in working with the Chester County Planning Commission in the Route 1 Corridor project, a long-term goal to infuse economic growth along the highway while also conserving open space.

“We do need to have preservation in growth areas as well,” Lacy said. “If growth is going to happen, it has to be within existing boroughs and multi-use. Let's look at the available space we have already, to redevelop by in-filling the space that we already have. Instead of creating business sprawl along Route 1, let's grow where people live, where they don't have to drive and sit in traffic in their car in order to get to work. Too many people get in their car to walk their dog, to get a quart of milk. We want to change that, to create walkable communities.”

If one half of TLC's mission is create opportunities for preservation throughout southern Chester County, then it can safely be said that the other half of their directive is in cultivating future conservation leaders  -- to essentially create the next generation of conservation leaders. Internship positions are available in Trail Blazers, education, development, and conservation/historic preservation. In TLC’s office, interns gain experience and skills related to TLC’s daily behind-the-scenes work. 

TLC hosts interns in its "Teens Turning Green" program year-round, both in its office and out in the field. Not only do interns assist with every aspect of TLC’s work, they gain a valuable learning experience in non-profit conservation. 

"They learn how a non-profit works on a practical level, experience the nuts and bolts of conservation, and gain a sense of accomplishment from contributing to an important cause in the community," said Emily Thomas, TLC's development coordinator. "Interns are led by our staff in assisting with tasks such as research, grant writing, fundraising, event planning, working with local municipalities, and community outreach. 

In the field, Trail Blazer interns take on environmental improvement projects such as invasive species management, riparian buffer installation, native meadow planting and wetland restoration. TLC's education interns assist in running a year-round series of children’s environmental educational programs, with a focus on TLC's summer education series. 

"Interns are guided by TLC’s knowledgeable staff in our office and on our four nature preserves, which contain a plethora of native flora and fauna, heritage trees, rare birds, and wetlands," Thomas said. "They serve as outdoor classrooms and valuable educational resources for program participants." 

"It's not just doing grunge work," Lacy said. "They're learning about trail construction, they're becomning stewards. In this day and age, we have to get kids out more than ever, and allow them to form a diverse grouping and get them involved in our programming. We have to get the next generation involved in appreciating the land."  

The TLC may be small – it's about to add only its' seventh staffer in January – but Lacy said that the organization is fortified by a strong volunteer base and a roll-up-the-sleeves work ethic.

“I've got board members out in there at our preserve trails with chainsaws opening up trails and mowing existing trails,” she said. “This board is completely hands-on. I have a board that has vision, that's not afraid. 

“Just like we can't preserve land without willing landowners, we can't do that  we do in educating the community without volunteers and cooperation of local organizations,” Lacy added. “There's a real resonance in Chester County – with the growth expected – that people want to be a part of land and historic preservation. We help to make it accessible. It's not just to preserve these wonderful places, but it's been our mission to get people out enjoying and appreciating our preserved land.” 

For a complete listing of upcoming programs and internship possibilities with TLC, visit http://tlcforscc.org.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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