During pandemic, conservancy leaders encourage public to seek solace at local nature preserves
By Richard Gaw
Last Friday morning, a family of three –a father, a mother and their teenage son –walked along the Chandler Mill Nature Preserve in Kennett Township, within a stone’s throw of the headquarters of the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC).
The family was not alone. They were eventually followed by a senior couple, a young man on a bicycle and a young mother and her infant daughter, who bounced gently in the comfort of a sack strapped over her mother’s shoulders.
In fact, a long and soothing walk around the more than 1,500 acres TLC has protected throughout the region, reveal the presence of a community who has come to the woods to lean on the power of nature, during one of the most unprecedented periods the world has experienced in many generations.
For millions of Americans, walking in nature these days has become the essential medicine – an outdoor therapy session – and it’s become the practice of many who can now be seen in properties protected by the TLC, the Brandywine Conservancy and the Natural Lands Trust.
“Unless we hear from government authorities that we must close, TLC is keeping our preserves open, and promoting them as an outlet and resource for the public –families, children and individuals,” said TLC Managing Director Todd Pride. “There has been a lot of media coverage about the importance of keeping kids busy these days, and we’re helping families to fill parts in that void.”
While TLC’s group activities and educational programs are suspended through April 13 and maybe longer, “We’re now pushing content directly to area teachers, to families and others, with ideas on how we can help them through this difficult time including taking advantage of the 10 miles of trails we have with our five public preserves in the Kennett Township area,” Pride said. “I am also encouraging the TLC staff to get to our preserves or our peers’ preserves.”
While the future of the many protected lands and preserves that are now available to the general public in southern Chester County remains to be seen, Pride said that the silver lining that continues to peer through the omnipresent cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic is in the form of collaboration.
In recent weeks, he and his staff have been in “complete lockstep” with the Brandywine Conservancy, Natural Lands, the French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust and the Willistown Conservation Trust, as well as The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and the Chester County Commissioners.
Since it was first formed a half century ago, The Brandywine Conservancy has preserved the land and water of the Brandywine watershed for the community through source water protection, farmland preservation, and work with local governments.
In total, the conservancy has helped conserve almost 66,000 acres since its inception, and in the past year alone, the agency has assisted in the protection of 217 acres and welcomed over 10,000 member-visitors at their preserves at The Laurels, Miller Farm and Waterloo Mills. Currently, there are five miles of trails surrounding The Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art’s campus in Chadds Ford which are open to the public and soon the Conservancy will unveil a new preserve called Birmingham Hill, which will be open for all to enjoy.
“For our members to be able to enjoy these beautiful lands provides them with a sense of normalcy, at a time when it seems that the world is turned upside down,” said Conservancy Director Ellen M. Ferretti. “Nature always presents a sense of repose and peace, which of course we need right now. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping,and the spring is coming.
“To have a place to go to find peace right now is remarkably important.”
Despite the fact that the Conservancy’s staff is now working from home, they are continuing to do the work of the organization: developing new conservation easements with landowners; visiting already eased lands; and working with local municipalities through the Conservancy’s Municipal Assistance program.
“We’re also collaborating with our colleagues by asking, ‘What are you doing during this extraordinary time?’” Ferretti said. “A lot of what we do as separate organizations doesn’t always fit in the same box, but we’re all there for each other and in that regard, I am extremely grateful for my colleagues at this point.
“This region is quite remarkable when it comes to conservation. From private citizens to government, for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations, it is a privilege to be a part of it.”
“Water and wildlife don’t see borders, and what we’re dealing with now also doesn’t see borders,” Pride said. “As we navigate our way through this pandemic, all of us want to continue to provide opportunities for the residents of our many communities to take advantage of the nature all around them.”
For up-to-date information about what preserves,and trails are open in your area, visit:
The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County: www.tlcforscc.org.
Natural Lands: https://natlands.org.
The Brandywine Conservancy: www.brandywine.org/conservancy.
To contact Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].
Recommendations for trail users on observing social distancing minimums
There are a number of specific recommendations for advising the public to keep safe social distancing when in parks or on trails:
•Follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidance on personal hygiene prior to heading to trails —wash hands, carry hand sanitizer, do not use trails if you have symptoms, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, etc.
•Observe at all times CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of six feet from other people. Practice it and know what it looks like. Keep it as you walk, bike or hike.
•Warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass to allow proper distance and step off trails to allow others to pass, keeping minimum recommended distances at all times. Signal your presence with your voice, bell or horn.
•Note that trail and park users may find public restrooms closed —be prepared before you leave and time outings so that you are not dependent on public restrooms.
•Bring water or drinks —public drinking fountains may be disabled and should not be used, even if operable.
•Bring a suitable trash bag. Leave no trash, take everything out to protect park workers.
Source: The National Recreation and Park Association, www.nrpa.org.