Hundreds of riders to Bike the Brandywine
● By Stone Lieberman
By NATALIE SMITH
Few could argue the natural beauty of Chester County, with its rolling hills, shimmering creeks and lush, green spaces.
But how much have you really seen? If your view has been limited to what’s outside your car window, the folks at the Brandywine Conservancy have a suggestion: Take a bike ride. More specifically, participate in their Bike the Brandywine event on Sept. 30, in which cyclists choose one of three routes roughly following the east and west branches of the Brandywine Creek.
“We made every effort to take cyclists past the areas of protected open space, and past cultural and historical features,” said Rob Daniels, a senior land-use planner with the conservancy, and a ride organizer.
The ride concept, said Daniels and fellow organizer Meredith Mayer, is to highlight the Brandywine Creek Greenway, a corridor of linked greenspace which runs through 25 municipalities. The 30-mile public and private strip of varying widths stretches from near Honey Brook in the northwest to the Delaware state line near Chadds Ford in the southeast. The greenway, which extends out from the creek and includes recreational lands, waters and area attractions, is a conservancy initiative underscoring the importance of preserving and protecting the area’s natural lands and waterways. The establishment of the greenway is an ongoing process, as the conservancy works with the municipalities in Chester and Delaware counties.
Since 1967, when a group of concerned citizens acted to stop development on a property called Pott’s Meadow in Chadds Ford, the Brandywine Conservancy has protected water, preserved land and engaged communities, using a multi-faceted approach to conservation. The conservancy works with private landowners who wish to see their lands permanently protected, and provides community planning services to municipalities and other governmental agencies. It currently holds 479 conservation and agricultural easements and has facilitated the permanent preservation of more than 63,000 acres of land. The Brandywine River Museum of Art, known internationally for its collection of American art, and the conservancy are part of an organization called the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art.
Daniels explained that within the conservancy there are three “arms.” Municipal assistance helps municipalities with their planning efforts and ordinances. Stewardship oversees the properties belonging to the conservancy and privately owned lands that are protected by conservation easements. The stewardship team goes out once a year to make sure the terms of those easements are being upheld, he said. The third arm is land conservation, which works at acquiring conservation easements as well as properties to own outright. Most recently the conservancy has been working with the Chester County Agricultural Land Preservation Board. “We’ve been very active in the Honey Brook area, working to preserve farms,” Daniels said.
Although the first organized Bike the Brandywine was in 2016, this year’s is part of a year-long celebration of the conservancy’s 50th anniversary. Last year’s ride gave cyclists a choice of traveling a 40- or 80-mile loop. The 2017 riders can take a 25-, 50- or even 100-mile trek, the longest passing the headwaters of the Brandywine Creek near Honey Brook.
“The idea really stemmed from trying to take it beyond a theoretical idea of a greenway,” said Mayer, who is an associate planner at the conservancy. “I think a lot of people think a greenway is a green trail through something … [Last year’s ride] brought in people’s understanding that a greenway is a conservation corridor, that’s it’s recreational offerings, and that it includes a lot of very natural scenic, historic and cultural beauty that we have in the area.”
Ride organizers list some high points along the way as King Ranch, Springton Manor, Kardon Park, Struble Trail, East Brandywine Trail and Hibernia Park.
“We're on the back roads for the most part,” said Daniels, himself a cyclist who’ll be again participating in the ride, “so when you drive your car you might not see them. There are a lot of roads out there that are just incredibly scenic.
“Let's get [people] out there on their bikes to be able to see what they basically have in their backyard and that they may not be that familiar with.”
The organizers said they knew they were on the right track last year after hearing from the cyclists.
“We got an incredible amount of responses. You usually do a survey and hope for 15 percent, but probably about half the riders responded,” Daniels said.
“And we got huge responses,” added Mayer. “[Ride participants] would write long paragraphs about how scenic it was.”
Last year’s ride had cyclists passing markers to help them understand the expanse of the lands aided by the Brandywine Conservancy.
“We labeled properties with signs identifying them as protected, so [cyclists] had a greater sense of all the work that gets done by agencies, non-profits and other conservation organizations to give us such a rich landscape,” Mayer said, noting that some of these properties are privately owned. The signs generated such positive feedback that Mayer said they’d be repeating their placements this year.
Mayer said the Western Chester County Chamber of Commerce, one of the conservancy’s partners, was invaluable in helping make last year’s ride a success.
“It’s awesome to have the chamber on board, in addition to all the businesses in the chamber on board. They’ve been a great partner in terms of shouldering the muscle of the ride. They did all the rest stops last year except for one. They helped us in terms of promoting and making municipal connections and business connections as well.
“We have a lot of help for this event,” Mayer said. “Between us and the chamber, we have about 100 volunteers.” The volunteers will be handling tasks such as delivering food and water to rest stops, setting up tents and monitoring traffic intersections.
“It's a really logistically complicated event,” Mayer said, “but really fun and rewarding when it happens and you see all these riders show up who are supporting clean water and recreation and our work.”
Daniels said that new to this year’s Bike the Brandywine will be an after-ride celebration with live music and food. Victory Brewing, a sponsor of the ride, will also be there. It will be on the grounds of the Chadds Ford Historical Society on Creek Road, where the ride begins and ends.
“We’re trying to make it more of a festive, post-ride feel,” Daniels said. “Last year was our first year, so we heavily focused on logistics. Now we’re trying to focus on some of the things we can give back to the riders and make it more sort of a [full] day event.”
The registration fee for the benefit ride, which is from $50 and $75 depending on date of sign-up, goes toward the conservancy’s clean water programs. Daniels said they want to emphasize that relationship.
“We're trying this year to make more of a connection between the ride and the creek itself and water quality. Funds raised from the ride go to water quality programs here and other things to help improve the Brandywine,” the organizer said. “We want to make that connection to open space, and that it’s all connected to the quality of the water in Brandywine Creek.”
With three routes, the conservancy is anticipating about 600 riders this year, around a 70 percent increase over 2016. The addition of longer and shorter rides is in hopes of attracting a broader selection of cycling enthusiasts. The 50-mile half-loop was added as a nod to the conservancy’s anniversary, Mayer said.
“We hope the 25-mile is more inclusive,” she said. “We think that anyone who’s in shape could do it.
“We would love to offer a more family-friendly route, but the conditions of the roads are such that there isn't a way to do that from our start and finish locations. But we did have some teenagers ride with their parents last year, which was really impressive.”
The organizers said they were surprised and pleased by the distance some of the cyclists came for last year’s ride, a trend they’re hopeful will be repeated.
“We knew there would be local cyclists from the greater Philly area,” said Daniels. “But we were shocked that we had people from [Washington,] D.C. to Connecticut for the ride.” Cyclists from Delaware and Maryland were also there for the fun.
“We did do a lot of local outreach in promotion for the ride -- bike stores, coffee shops, grocery stores, those kinds of things -- but beyond that it was mostly Facebook,” he said.
Mayer added, “We also did a lot of outreach to bicycle clubs and coalitions.” Those communication outlets especially helped spread the word.
What impression do the organizers hope the ride will leave on cyclists in the 2017 Bike the Brandywine?
“It’s that this area of Chester County and the Brandywine Creek Greenway have an awful lot to offer, from open space, cultural and historical resources,” Daniels said. “We want them to make the connection to the open space, and that it’s all connected to the quality of the water of the Brandywine Creek.”
“It’s our quality of life, as well,” said Mayer.
For more information about the Brandywine Conservancy’s Bike the Brandywine on Sept. 30, call 610-388-2700 or visit www.brandywine.org.
Natalie Smith may be contacted at DoubleSMedia@rocketmail.com