The closed-off open space of New Garden Township
By Richard Gaw
On the evening of Feb. 23, 2015, after an hour-long discussion between elected officials that was both divided and accusatory, the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors, by a vote of 3-2, entered the township into negotiations to purchase the 178-acre Green Valley Farm in the township for $2.3 million, for the purpose of placing a conservation easement on it.
At first glance, the investment seems, in principle, to be a very good one: Green Valley is home to the headwaters of four streams that converge to become Trout Run, an important tributary of the Wild and Scenic designated White Clay Creek, New Garden’s main waterway. It is the site of New Garden’s first organic farm, and maintains the best agricultural soils in New Garden Township. The acreage is a sanctuary to a great variety of wildlife including swans, great horned owls, osprey and bald eagles. Preserving the acreage in perpetuity assures that a residential real estate developer will ever set foot on the land, which will guarantee that the rural urbanization that has invaded the township – seen in the form of cookie-cutter developments throughout the area – will never happen there. As a consequence, school taxes could be held at bay.
And yet, in all of this splendor in the grass and meadows and vistas, one major component of this open space agreement – still on the table 16 months later – is that the very citizens who this conservation easement is intended for will never get to set foot on it. Under the terms of the agreement, there will no public access to the property. It is open space that has no intentions of ever being truly open.
The acreage is owned, in part, by former township supervisor Warren Reynolds, and has been in his family's possession for more than one hundred years. It is to no one's surprise that Reynolds would choose to work with the township – and not a commercial real estate conglomerate who would be able to offer far more money for the right to develop on the site. Throughout this tenure on the board, Reynolds was a known conservationist and tenacious protector of open space, and unafraid to get in the face of those entities who proposed massive commercial development in New Garden.
And so it is with great irony, given the past history of the Reynolds family serving as stewards of conservation, that the primary caveat of this open space negotiation does not call for public access to 178 acres. Although it is not the intention of the Reynolds family to do so, this decision brazenly defies the work being done by the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County, who helped create the Kennett Greenway and the Chandler Mill Nature Preserve, vast acreages that form an intricate and yet delicate trail stem that honors both our history and our natural habitat.
It undervalues the selfless acts of hundreds of volunteers who helped create the New Garden Trails – Mill Race, Laurel Woods and Landenberg Junction.
It defies the vision of the White Clay Creek Steering Committee, whose mission is to support the preservation, protection, restoration, and enhancement of natural and cultural resources of the White Clay Creek Watershed in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Most importantly, it binds the hands of the township's Open Space Review Board, whose primary task is to solidify trail easements from property owners to develop trial networks throughout the township, as detailed in the 2009 New Garden Township Greenways Plan.
The fact that the negotiations for this deal have stalled have drawn the ire of some elected officials, but in retrospect, these delays may serve as a silver lining, one that gives the Reynolds family a chance to rethink the condition of their terms. Green Valley Farm lay in the vicinity of a connective tributary of trails, a network of nature that joins preserves to greenways from Landenberg to Kennett Square and beyond. Would it be too unreasonable to suggest carving out a five- to ten-acre corner of those 178 acres for a publicly-accessed perimeter trail, one that could form the latest link in a growing chain of conservation in New Garden Township and beyond?
May we ever see the Green Valley Farms Trail, joined some day to the other trails that have been forged before it?
Clearly, the dreams and aspirations of those associated with the many conservation groups in our community have helped make southern Chester County a desirable place to live and raise a family, and one that keeps the real estate developer's hands from getting too close. Yes, to a very large degree – 178 acres' worth – the preservation of the Green Valley Farm will contribute to that vision, and for that, the Reynolds family is to be thanked.
Yet, the truest measure of a conservationist is not to close off the doors of all he or she aims to protect, but to share these lands, in perpetuity, for future generations to enjoy. So we ask, what does the Reynolds family wish to be remembered more for – giving up their development rights at a substantial discount, or gifting a slice of their beautiful property for generations yet to come?