Nature preserve and interpretive nature center open
● By Steven Hoffman
Project by project, acre by acre, The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC) is both preserving and honoring the land. The recent opening of the Chandler Mill Nature Preserve and Chandler Mill Interpretive Nature Center are the latest additions to that initiative, and are part of TLC's mission to enhance land conservation, historic preservation, environmental education and stewardship.
Located at the confluence of the Red Clay and Bucktoe creeks, the nature preserve contains Class I woodlands and meadows, specimen trees, rare species of flora and fauna, and historic sites. It is part of an Audubon Important Bird Area, as well as an over 35-year-long Cornell Lab of Ornithology study. The preserve is a haven for birds and threatened flora and fauna. In addition, the preserve will tie in to the Kennett Greenway, a 12-mile loop trail connecting Kennett Borough to community assets in Kennett Township. TLC has installed picnic tables, bike racks, kiosks, interpretive signage and a pollinator garden.
Spring additions to the preserve will include the planting of tree islands in the parking area, additional interpretive signage, and the installation of a small pervious parking area on Bucktoe Road.
In developing the preserve, TLC utilized sustainable building practices such as a permeable parking area, complete with a rain garden and bioswale, which prevents flooding, runoff and erosion. TLC has begun conducting riparian plantings at the site, and will continue this practice of habitat restoration as the project progresses.
There are currently two stream sensors being monitored by Stroud Water Research on the preserve.
At the entrance to the preserve is TLC's Walnut Hill headquarters, which was purchased by TLC from the Mills family, who had owned the home for 50 years. It was previously run as a bed and breakfast. In addition to converting the home to office space, TLC worked with architect Wayne Simpson and Lindsey Construction to retrofit the house's two-car garage into the Interpretive Nature Center, which will serve as a working classroom for educational programming, as well as introduce visitors to a collection of taxidermied screech owls, foxes, hawks and mallards, along with a neighbor’s bird nest collection and various local artifacts.
Together, the nature preserve and interpretive center form the largest contiguously conserved area in Kennett Township, with more than 500 areas of open space containing some of the most biodiverse habitat in the region.
“The addition of the interpretive nature center and preserve is a great example of the courage and vision exemplified by everyone who came together in this public/private partnership to protect the irreplaceable for the entire community to enjoy long after we are all gone,” said TLC executive director Gwen Lacy. “Not only will our environmental education programming provide people of all ages with meaningful experiences in nature, the preserve will serve as an example of ways all of us can minimize our impact on the watershed and create meaningful and positive change.”
Perhaps the largest cornerstone of support for TLC's efforts has come from Kennett Township, which in 2015 became the official owners of the historic Chandler Mill Bridge to save it from demolition and replacement with a two-lane highway bridge. The township converted the structure to a pedestrian trail entrance to the interpretive nature center and the preserve, while also allowing for emergency vehicle access.
“The community spoke out and said, 'We have enough traffic. We need natural pockets of peace and quiet to remember why we all moved to this beautiful area of Chester County in the first place,'" Lacy said. "Collectively, TLC is humbled and ever mindful that eternal vigilance is the price of conservation."