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Chester County Press

Saving land in Landenberg to protect drinking water

07/05/2022 11:26AM ● By Steven Hoffman

Natural Lands has announced the permanent preservation of a 15-acre property in Franklin Township. In addition to preserving scenic views, forests, and meadows, the conservation easement ensures protection for more than 600 feet of a tributary to East Branch White Clay Creek. 

Water from this unnamed tributary eventually makes its way into the State of Delaware and serves as a major source of drinking water for New Castle County, including the City of Wilmington. The White Clay Creek joins the Christina River in Wilmington, approximately one mile from its confluence with the Delaware River. The entire watershed of the White Clay Creek is designated as a “Wild and Scenic River,” a federal classification for waterways with outstanding natural and cultural values.

The conservation plan was put in place by Andrew Read Homsey and Darragh Burgess, Sophie Homsey’s adult children, and David Niles, her widower. Sophie, who had a lifelong passion for the natural world, passed away in 2019.  Darragh, Andrew, and David wanted to preserve the property in her memory. 

Andrew Homsey said, “She was a keen observer who documented the rhythms of her environment through journals, art, poetry, and her extensive collections. She spent countless hours exploring this plot of land, observing the flora and fauna, helping enhance its habitats, and nurturing its non-human inhabitants and visitors. The changing of the seasons, the arrivals and departures of migrants, and the discovery of plant species were all equally marvelous to her.”

A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement that permanently limits a property’s use for all present and future owners of the land. In addition to preventing subdivision and development, the Homsey conservation easement also places limits on the activities that could generate soil laden run-off and sedimentation, especially on the property’s steep slopes, woodlands, and stream edges. 

“As our region experiences more climate-related natural disasters like damaging storms and extreme flooding, the importance of preserved open space like the Homsey property becomes all the more clear,” said Natural Lands President Oliver Bass. “In fact, Chester County’s landmark study Return on Environment: The Economic Value of Protected Open Space demonstrates that our region saves nearly $400 million on stormwater costs thanks to the flood control and water pollution services that natural areas provide free of charge. I applaud the Homsey family for choosing this meaningful way to pay tribute to Sophie Homsey.”

The acquisition of the conservation easement on the Homsey property was funded by Chester County’s Conservancy Grant Program, in conjunction with a donation of value from the landowners. Franklin Township, the Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation, and the National Park Service through the White Clay Wild and Scenic Rivers Program also provided funding toward the costs of the project. Franklin Township and Chester County provided stewardship funds to Natural Lands for the perpetual monitoring, administration, and enforcement of the conservation easement.

Chester County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell, and Michelle Kichline said in a statement, “Preservation of this 15-acre property is a tremendous legacy, honoring the memory of Sophie Homsey and protecting valuable watersheds. This is a perfect example of the environmental and economic value of conserving open space that Chester County residents have supported for more than 30 years, and it also demonstrates how our focus on land preservation positively impacts areas and people beyond our county border.”

“Franklin Township is excited to see such a beautiful property retained as undeveloped land. It is a real asset in retaining the rural character of Landenberg,” said Paul Overton, Franklin Township’s Parks, Rec and Open Space Board member. “The Homsey property is contiguous with existing Homeowner Association lands, creating a large greenway corridor for wildlife and for people to enjoy once the Township creates a trail. We really appreciate the Homsey family and applaud Natural Lands for making connections.”

“Preserving this property was one of my mother’s stated aims and her fondest hope,” said Andrew Homsey. “While the character of Landenberg changed around her considerably throughout her time there, her interest in keeping her small portion of it as natural as possible was always very important to her. Her family is very pleased that her vision can be realized and ensured in perpetuity to the benefit of the entire community.”

Natural Lands is dedicated to preserving and nurturing nature’s wonders while creating opportunities for joy and discovery in the outdoors for everyone.  As the Greater Philadelphia region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization, Natural Lands—which is member supported—has preserved more than 125,000 acres, including 42 nature preserves and one public garden totaling more than 23,000 acres. Nearly five million people live within five miles of land under the organization’s protection. Land for life, nature for all.