BY GENE PISASALE
Back in 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant had a good idea: preserve a beautiful tract of land forever as a national park. He called it Yellowstone. Over the past 140 years, hundreds of areas on the national, state and local level have become protected so we can experience the treasures of nature away from the noise and bustle of downtown congestion. Chester County has several state and municipal parks which offer an opportunity to kick back, relax, take a hike, go fishing and experience incredible wildlife amidst scenic landscapes. Here we highlight five locations which will please even the most devoted backpackers and “weekend warriors”.
Nottingham County Park
Nottingham County Park in southwestern Chester County came to life in September 1963. The region which includes the park once held vital chromite deposits which were processed into pigments and dyes for industrial use in the mid-late 1800’s. Laborers also quarried feldspar, important as an ingredient in pottery, soap, glass and even toothpaste. The 651 acres of meadows, woodlands and walking trails hold a rare geological feature- a serpentine barren- one of the largest on the East Coast. The olive-colored metamorphic rock restricts development of most flora due to the presence of growth-inhibiting minerals. Despite these limitations, some plants thrive- including the serpentine aster (‘Aster depauperatus’), which is found regionally- but nowhere else on Earth. Hikers can view pits where serpentine and feldspar were quarried. Wildlife abounds. Visitors can see beavers and deer as well as cormorants, great blue herons, ospreys, red-tailed hawks and if you’re lucky, a sacred symbol- bald eagles soaring in the heavens.
Hibernia County Park
As the birthplace of the nation’s steel industry, Pennsylvania has several regions which were mined for their rich iron deposits. The area around Hibernia County Park was one of them. Four miles north of Coatesville, this region has a rich history linked to the Industrial Revolution. Strolling down the gravel and dirt road past the Hibernia Mansion (circa 1744), one can see the remnants of an iron forge and furnace complex along the banks of the west branch of the Brandywine River. The stately home from which Samuel Downing directed development of the iron deposits sits at the crest of a hill, its bright tan walls boldly proclaiming the once vibrant business environment which thrived around the estate. Within its 861 acres, Hibernia County Park holds numerous treasures for people to enjoy. Chambers Lake offers great fishing, including channel catfish, small and largemouth bass, panfish and chain pickerel. If you scan the shoreline, you may see snowy egrets, green and blue-winged teals, ring-necked pheasant, sandpipers and kingfishers.
Marsh Creek State Park
If you want to experience the largest body of water in Chester County, drive north on Route 82 through rolling hills flanked by horse farms around the 535 acre Marsh Creek Lake. The views are beautiful in the Fall, sugar maples presenting gold and crimson leaves, the kaleidoscope of color a sparkling pageant surrounding the azure expanse. There are 220 seasonal moorings for boats, along with water sports available through the late Spring and Summer months. There’s even a swimming pool open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Fishermen will appreciate the walleye, channel catfish, largemouth bass and muskies, one of which measured in at 40” for a lucky angler. Deer, pheasant, rabbits and a wide variety of waterfowl call the area around the lake their home. For equine enthusiasts there’s horseback riding, which allows a pleasant perspective of the lovely surroundings.
French Creek State Park
Also once part of an important mining complex, the region around French Creek State Park flanks former iron processing sites which operated in the 1700’s- 1800’s. The 7,730 acres within the park encompass mountain biking paths and 35 miles of hiking trails. Picnic tables are ubiquitous, placed within easy access of Hopewell and Scotts Run Lake and other charming areas. Park Manager Eric Brown mentions that the 6,000 acres open to hunting support wild turkeys, deer and pheasant. Brown even spotted a bobcat recently; black bears occasionally wander by. Strategically located on the edge of the park, St. Peter’s Village offers a magnificent view of waterfalls cascading over enormous granite boulders, a splendid vista at sunset.
White Clay Creek State Park
Spanning the border between Chester County and Newcastle County in Delaware, White Clay Creek State Park holds a unique historical distinction- it lies along the Mason-Dixon Line laid out from 1763- 1767 demarcating the land holdings of William Penn’s descendants and the Calvert family of Baltimore. The park offers 37 miles of excellent trails for hiking and mountain biking amidst dense forests and sculpted rock outcrops. There are autumn hayrides, geology hikes and summer camps for the kids. Take a tour of the Morris Estate which dates back to 1790, the house and surroundings the home of prominent Delaware judge and attorney Hugh Morris.
Whether you’re up for a vigorous trek or a leisurely walk, our park system offers a wide variety of options to enjoy picturesque countryside. With the encroachment of housing developments and business complexes seemingly in an unending crescendo, these spots offer a refuge where you can relax and take pleasure from something that’s becoming increasingly rare: peace and quiet.
Gene Pisasale is an author and lecturer based in Kennett Square, Pa. He’s written six books and conducts an ongoing lecture series focused on American history. His latest book “The Forgotten Star” delves into the War of 1812 and true life mysteries surrounding an American icon- the Star-Spangled Banner. It is dedicated to all of our Veterans. Visit Gene’s website at www.GenePisasale.com or e-mail him at Gene@Genepisasale.com.