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Chester County Press

New Garden board gives approval to Smedley Preserve’s master plan

03/21/2024 12:04PM ● By Richard Gaw

For years, New Garden Township residents would drive by or visit the Loch Nairn Golf Club and admire picturesque fairways and enjoy a signature crab cake at one of the property’s three restaurants.

From the time the township’s Board of Supervisors authorized the $1.425 million purchase of the 106-acre site from the Smedley family at their June 7, 2021 online work session, however, the shared vision of the property’s owners and stakeholders have been reimagining the parcel as a passive recreation park. At a presentation on March 18 at the New Garden Township Building, Kate Raman, a conservation project manager at Natural Lands, spelled out the future for the park – referred to as the Smedley Preserve -- that will include forests, trails and pathways, restored streams and acres of meadows in the form of a master plan that received the approval of the board.

The restoration of the park, Raman said, is intended to enhance the ecological function of water quality, biodiversity and resilience, a goal that will be challenging given its former usage.

“Golf courses are not really an ecologically beneficial landscape, so this site has been altered significantly,” she said. “Water flows down from Route and 1 and right across the turf grass, which functions as impervious cover and it picks up sediment, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and brings them into the tributary and eventually to the main branch of the White Clay [Creek]. 

“The flood plains and wetlands have been removed and the streams have been realigned, and this is to create the fairways and make it fun for golfers. In a normal environment, there would be more trees on this site, but those trees have been removed to make way for the fairways and that takes shade out, and there is no shade over the tributaries or any of the water features.”

East side, west side restoration

Raman broke down the plans for the preserve into its west side – the area nearest the restaurants -- and its east side, which is to the east of Church Road. The proposal for the west side will include the forest planting of four- to six-foot-high restoration grid trees, that will remain in tubes until they reach ten feet in height. The plan also proposes meadow growth near McCue Road.

On the east side, the plan calls for extensive meadow growth that will be created by three different seed mixtures that will produce wildflowers and meadow grasses. 

Because the 10 on-site ponds are man-made and do not receive shade, Raman said that they create warmer water temperatures and algae – all of which is harmful to fish – and backfills to the White Clay Creek. While some of the ponds have already dried up, the master plan recommends that all ponds be drained, including the largest, which is near the Bowling Green Brandywine Treatment Center. 

Hannah Kalk, a project coordinator and water quality lead with Resource Environmental Solutions (RES), said that beginning this fall, the company will begin to play an important role in the restoration of the park’s wetlands, which will include draining, grading, repairing failing culverts and incorporating native plantings.

“The stream on site is obviously very degraded, and we’re going to give it more natural geometry and make the streambanks shallow and the stream relatively narrow to encourage flooding into these new wetlands,” said Kalk, who estimated that RES’ work will be completed over the next 16 months.

Combined, Raman said that the west and east sides of the park have just under 4 miles of cart path trails and crossings. She said that while some paths will be removed as part of the master plan, others will be restored and paved to a smooth surface that will allow increased pedestrian accessibility.

While the park now has a temporary parking space off McCue Road, a permanent parking area is being proposed off Church Road and adjacent to Sherwood Drive that will include safety improvements along Church Road such as the installation of two 75-foot-long medians and a pedestrian crosswalk with safety signage. 

Master plan costs

The ticket price for the restoration of the Smedley Preserve – estimated at $4.25 million – includes pre-construction; demo and site preparation; infrastructure upgrades; furniture and amenities; planting materials and meadow seeding. While the estimated price tag may be alarming to a township that is also developing the former Saint Anthony’s in the Hills property now known as New Garden Hills, financial assistance may come in the form of federal, state and local grants that could total as high as $4.9 million. 

Raman recommended that the township phase in these components over a long period rather than all at once, beginning with the installation of parking, and followed by stream and pond restoration and landscaping.

“In terms of thinking about it in the phasing we proposed, you don’t have to do it all at once,” she told the board. “You can just start with the temporary parking lot, and once RES is done working in the area, establish that permanent parking lot and take it in bits as you go.”

Raman’s presentation was the latest public participation meeting related to the Smedley Preserve’s plans, which have also included committee and public meetings, interviews with key stakeholders and a focus group meeting that toured the site in 2023 with residents who live near the property.

Raman was assisted in the development of the plan by Rick Tralies, Natural Lands’ senior director of landscape planning, and Mike Buck, New Garden Township’s parks and open space superintendent. In addition to the Smedley Preserve, Natural Lands owns and manages 42 nature preserves and one public garden that totals more than 23,000 acres and works with municipalities throughout the commonwealth to protect more than 135,000 acres of land. 

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].