Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A New Preserve to Explore

A sweeping view of hayfields at the ChesLen Preserve
On the Sunday afternoon before Memorial Day (May 26), Kali and I took advantage of the unusually clear, cool day to visit the relatively new 1,300-acre ChesLen Preserve located in central Chester County, Pennsylvania's "horse country."  ChesLen (so named because it is located in CHESter County and was donated by a philanthropist whose surname begins with LEN) encompasses fields, woodlands, wetlands, stream valleys, and a small section of a rare plant community that developed on soils underlain by serpentinite, an unusual rock formed under the ocean and that contains near-toxic levels of chromium and other metals.

We parked in a small lot near the southern end of the preserve and began our 3-mile loop walk by entering fields that gradually transitioned into woodlands.  The woods, relatively young second-growth forest full of the invasive plants that typify all second-growth woods in the northern Piedmont, offered pleasant walking.  While the preserve's excellent trail map only showed one trail threading through the woods, Kali and I found ourselves wandering on what was actually a spiderweb of trails throughout the forest.  We finally descended straight downhill on one of the paths to reach a pleasant, wooded tributary of the West Branch of Brandywine Creek.

Brandywine Creek tributary
Polywogs in a placid channel alongside the main stream
Directly across the stream we happened upon a scenic old fieldstone culvert bearing a trail (probably the remnants of an old farm road) over a rivulet.

Fieldstone culvert
After we crossed the stream, we walked through riparian woodlands for a short distance, then ascended the other side of the stream valley through expansive, open grasslands.  With clear, blue skies, a cool breeze, and expansive views, it was glorious; we felt like breaking into a song from the Sound of Music.

Kali ascending the hill through grasslands
Prior to becoming a preserve owned by the regional Natural Lands Trust (NLT) conservancy, ChesLen had been a private working farm.  To maintain the fields and prevent invasion by the non-native pasture-snatchers (e.g., multiflora rose, autumn olive, honeysuckle), NLT plans to continue to manage the fields through agricultural leases for the foreseeable future.

Because CheLen will become one of the NLT's signature preserves (both for its size and the diversity of habitats it protects), the conservancy recently completed a new visitor contact/public events/land stewardship center on a knoll overlooking the fields.  It's a classy facility reflective of the importance of the preserve.  The new facility will be dedicated in June.

New visitor contact/public events/stewardship center
A bit "raw," but impressive nonetheless
After a close-up visit to the new facility, Kali and I continued our walk through more meadows full of buttercups (Ranunculus spp.)

Buttercups along the trail
Fleabane (Erigeron spp.) hosting two native bees
The trail finally turned away from the fields and entered the valley created by the rivulet we saw flowing under the fieldstone bridge earlier in our walk.  We quickly found ourselves back at the stream we had crossed earlier.  We crossed the stream and re-entered the woods where we had lost our way at the beginning of the hike, finally finding the elusive trail junction where we should have turned.

May-apple (Podophyllum peltatum) with fruit on the streambank
Kali picking her way across the stream on natural stepping stones
ChesLen is a nice place, even if the vast majority of it is still devoted to active agriculture.  Our walk only covered a very small part of the trail system and there's plenty of interesting habitat to explore.  I just wish it weren't such a long drive (1.25 hours) from home.


Carolyn H said...

What a lovely place! I hope I get to visit sometime.

Scott said...

Carolyn: It was lovely, but I'd estimate that 75% (or more) was in agriculture of one sort or another.

packrat said...

Excellent images, Scott. I really love the feel of the first. The Fleabanes shot has excellent composition. It's so exciting to see a new place coming together like that, where people take positive action to preserve a unique ecosystem.

Scott said...

There was a small "fly in the ointment" at the preserve that I didn't include in my post. Some of the grass fields are leased to a farmer, and he cut the fields very recently--right in the middle of bird nesting season--an ecological no-no. But, I think that the folks at NLT (the preserve's owner) are now going to watch over the lease farmer more diligently thanks to my inquiries and pestering.

John Gray said...

The bridge/ culvert looks like it should be in LORD OF THE RINGS

Scott said...

John: Absolutely... That's exactly the type of stone-arch bridge it is. Old-fashioned and sized just right for a hobbit!

ZielonaMila said...

Great post, beautiful photos:) Greetings

Scott said...

Thank you, Zielona. We had a good walk that afternoon.