Pastoral paths align for TLC’s nature center

The troubles surrounding the waters of the Chandler Mill Bridge in Kennett Township may have finally dissipated.

The Chandler Mill Bridge, once a source of conflict, will help visitors connect with nature.

The Chandler Mill Bridge, once a source of conflict, will soon help visitors connect with nature in Kennett Township.

The Chandler Mill Nature Preserve and Interpretive Nature Center has now been fully funded, The Land Conservancy (TLC) for Southern Chester County announced in a press release, inviting residents to dip their toes into the creek in the picnic area or hop off their bikes and relax next to the historic bridge.

For more than a decade, rancor involving the bridge dominated numerous meetings. Deeming it unsafe, Chester County, the bridge’s previous owner, made plans to raze the 1910 span and replace it with a modern equivalent. But preservationists, who fought to add it to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, argued that the bridge’s character enhanced the area’s bucolic charm.

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. Partnering with TLC, the township aimed 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.

“This is an example of a successful public private partnership that will result in a community asset for generations to come,” said Gwen Lacy, TLC’s executive director.

Since Kennett Township took ownership of the bridge less than a year ago, TLC has raised more than $700,000 to purchase the former Walnut Hill bed and breakfast for TLC’s headquarters and to create the Chandler Mill Interpretive Nature Center and Preserve. The Brokaw family, local artists and conservationists, have been busy surveying and filing the necessary documentation to donate the acreage to create the Chandler Mill Nature Preserve, the release said.

“We are pleased to learn of the recent successes of TLC as reflected in its recent announcement,” said Kennett Township Supervisors’ Chairman Scudder G. Stevens. “Kennett Township has worked with TLC for many years, and we share similar concerns for the well-being of the land. We are happy for its continuing success in exercising its positive influence in both Kennett Township and throughout the region ... and look forward to working with TLC into the future regarding our shared goals for the land.”

Creating the largest contiguous corridor of permanently protected lands in the township required donations from individuals as well as grant awards from the Welfare Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Starrett Foundation, Fair Play Foundation, Crystal Trust, E. Kneale Dockstader Foundation, Marjorie L. and Arthur P. Miller Fund, and the KEEN Effect. The engineering and initial planning phase has already begun, and the preserve and interpretive nature center is anticipated to open to the public in 2017.

The Chandler Mill Nature Preserve is located at the confluence of the Red Clay and Bucktoe creeks, and contains Class I Woodlands and Meadows, specimen trees, rare species of flora and fauna, and historic sites. It is part of an Audubon Important Bird Area, as well as an over 30-year-long Cornell Lab of Ornithology study.

With more than 500 areas of open space containing some of the most biodiverse habitat in the region, the Chandler Mill Nature Preserve and Interpretive Center 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 history in Southern Chester County, the release said.

TLC’s goal is to create a vibrant community resource, while using best management practices that demonstrate innovative ways of protecting and enhancing water resources and environmental health, such as installing riparian buffers, rain gardens, permeable pavers, and pollinator gardens. The preserve will link to 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, which has preserved about 850 acres of land to date, embarked on the Chandler Mill journey over a decade ago, with the objective of saving a one-lane historic bridge from demolition and replacement with a two-lane highway bridge. The project evolved into a pedestrian bridge due to the generosity of a local family, the wishes of the residents, and the foresight of the township.

“Over this last decade the community spoke out and said we have enough traffic, we need natural pockets of peace and quiet to remember why we all moved to this beautiful area of Chester County in the first place,” Lacy said in the release.



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