For more than a decade, the Chandler Mill Bridge, a historic, one-lane, stone and steel structure that spans a gently gurgling waterway, was awash in conflict – a dramatic contrast to its bucolic surroundings.
Deeming it unsafe, Chester County, which owned it, made plans to raze the 1910 span. But preservationists, who fought to add it to the National Register of Historic Places, argued that the bridge’s character enhanced the charm of the area. Moreover, replacing it with a modern equivalent would mar the pastoral landscape, they said.
During an impasse of several years, the county closed the bridge, and drivers got used to the detours, paving the way for the bridge’s purchase by Kennett Township in October for $1. Aided by The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC), the township’s goal was to return the bridge to reflecting its pristine environment by restricting it to pedestrians and emergency vehicles and using it to anchor a nature center and trail network.
On Friday, April 1, that objective moved closer to reality when TLC announced that it had received a Community Conservation Partnerships Program Grant Award from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
“Pennsylvania’s local parks, trails, and natural areas create many opportunities to be active outdoors. They define our communities and make them places where people want to live, work and play,” Lauren Imgrund, director of DCNR’s Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, said in a press release. “Our grants help our local partners meet the vision they have for their communities and regions.”
Gwen Lacy, TLC’s executive director, expressed gratitude for the grant and said the $150,000 would spearhead the creation of the Chandler Mill Nature Preserve and Interpretive Nature Center, located at the base of the Chandler Mill Bridge.
The future preserve will sit at the confluence of the Red Clay and Bucktoe creeks, and contains woodlands and meadows in a registered historic district, specimen trees, rare species of flora and fauna, and historic sites. It is also part of an Audubon Important Bird Area, as well as a more than 30-year-long Cornell Lab of Ornithology study, the release said.
Lacy said the future Chandler Mill Nature Preserve and Interpretive Center lies within the largest contiguously conserved area in Kennett Township, with over 500 areas of conserved open space containing some of the most bio-diverse habitat in the region.
“This project will greatly advance TLC’s efforts to protect, enhance, and promote the importance of watershed health within the Brandywine/Christina Watershed and highlight the protection of our history and our stories in Southern Chester County,” Lacy said.
She said TLC plans to use best management practices that demonstrate innovative ways of protecting and enhancing water resources and environmental health.
“We will utilize sustainable building practices such as permeable parking areas, which will help to prevent the issues caused by a traditional paved parking area, including flooding runoff and erosion,” she said. “We have already begun conducting riparian plantings at the site, and will continue this practice of habitat restoration as the project progresses.”
In addition, Lacy said improvements such as rain gardens and pollinator gardens will improve habitat on the property and avoid surface runoff.
“Not only will our environmental education programming provide people of all ages with meaningful experiences in nature, the preserve will serve as an example for ways all of us can minimize our impact on the watershed and create meaningful positive change,” she said.
The preserve will tie into the Kennett Greenway, a 12-mile loop trail connecting Kennett Borough to community assets, such as the Chandler Mill Nature Preserve, within Kennett Township.
TLC’s mission is to ensure the perpetual preservation and stewardship of open space, natural resources, historic sites, and working agricultural lands throughout Southern Chester County. As of 2016, TLC, which operates with an all volunteer board, has preserved approximately 850 acres of land, through both purchasing land and working with landowners to place conservation easements on their properties, the release said.