Groups save Beaver Valley

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Supporters of Save the Valley take a hayride at Ramsey's Farm in northern Delaware while celebrating their successful efforts.

The long trek to save Beaver Valley has come to the conclusion conservation groups had hoped for. A consortium of organizations succeeded in raising the needed money to keep the former Woodlawn Trustees tract from being turned into a large housing development.

“We raised $8 million just in the nick of time and now 240 acres in Concord Township are on their way to being saved,” the group Save the Valley said on its website.

The $8 million was what had to be raised in excess of an undisclosed amount to buy the land. Groups involved in the effort include the Brandywine Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, Beaver Valley Preservation Alliance, Beaver Valley Conservancy as well as Save the Valley. Mt. Cuba also donated, as did Delaware County and Concord Township.

All 240 acres, plus the 30-acre Penns Woods Winery will be permanently protected from development and will be held by the Conservation Fund. The valley runs from Smithbridge Road on the north to the Delaware state line. Its western edge borders on the First State National Historic Park.

What's a party without some music?

“We’re thrilled,” said Jack Michel of the Beaver Valley Conservancy, during a bonfire on the evening of April 29. "I've lived here all my life, and this is the first time since 1957 that I knew for sure it wouldn't be developed."

“The area will be left as is,” Michel said, “and all development rights will be extinguished.”

Rental properties on the site, homes and horse farms, will remain, but he later added that there might be some added parking for visitors.

Michel — along with Eileen Mutschuler and Diana McCarthy — appealed Concord Township’s approval of the Vineyard Commons development that would have led to 160 new homes in Beaver Valley.

Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Green sent the matter back to Concord, an action that Michel’s attorney said directed the township to hold evidentiary hearings and to consider the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

But Michel and the others organized the various conservation entities and raised enough money to buy the property and preserve the land. The efforts included more than 6,000 Facebook followers and close to 2,000 donors.

As would be expected, Michel is not the only one who’s thrilled the land will be preserved.

John Crossan, who is running unopposed in the Republican Party primary for Concord Township Commission this month, is equally glad for the preservation and the fact that the effort crossed party lines.

Nathalie Besson and her daughter Camille Russell, 3, of Bethel Township, toast leftover Easter Peeps during the Save the Valley Bonfire.

“It truly was a bipartisan effort. One of the incredible things about the effort was that it spanned all divisions and all interests. It really brought a community together,” Crossan said. “We approached something out of love, rather than fear or animosity. Though things got heated at some points, it really was a positive initiative to save this land.”

He added that many of those involved who didn’t know one another before, are now lifelong friends.

“And this group has some of the staunchest Democrats you’ll ever find and some of the staunchest Republicans. At no point was that ever a barrier.”

One of those staunch Democrats is Rob Gurnee of Chadds Ford Township.

"The thing that is most wonderful about this victory is not only saving this land, it's that I'm so proud of the community coming together, very disparate parts of the community coming together with a shared vision and purpose," Gurnee said. "It was a great lesson in civics."

He added that it was the shared vision that kept everyone together without fragmenting, and that holds for the nonpartisan nature of the effort.

"When people talk about things in the abstract without a practical application or any sort of relational aspect to it, that's when we butt heads. I find the greatest opportunity for transformation is in relationship and all of us are in relationship toward a shared goal," Gurnee said.

Another happy activist in the effort is Ken Hemphill of the Beaver Valley Preservation Alliance. He said his initial reaction to learning the effort had been successful was disbelief.

“I’m elated,” Hemphill said. “It’s taking a little while for it to all sink in because it’s been such a long haul and it’s become such a part of my life and that of others who have worked nonstop for the last four-plus years. It’s taking some time for me to appreciate that this place is actually saved forever.”

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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