WEST CHESTER—Christmas came early this year for open space in Chester County, as state Senator Andy Dinniman helped secure key state funding for a conservation project that will ultimately lead to the creation of one of the largest contiguous areas of preserved land between Washington, D.C. and New York City.
In November, Dinniman announced a $1.5 million Community Conservation Partnerships Program (CCPP) grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Those funds are critical to supporting the second half of a two-phase plan being led by The Conservation Fund (TCF) to acquire and permanently protect 1,718 acres owned by George Strawbridge, Jr. by adding them to the White Clay Creek Preserve.
“Southern Chester County is home to some of the last large bastions of open space in our region and it’s crucial that we seize significant opportunities – like the preservation of the Strawbridge property – to ensure that they are conserved and protected for posterity,” Dinniman said. “Our land, air, and water are part of our heritage and part of our identity. As development pressures continue to close in, we have a sacred duty and a moral obligation to see these natural treasures remain untouched for generations to come. And that’s exactly what this project is all about.”
Probably the single largest privately-owned tract in Chester County, the Strawbridge property represents a critical resource in a rapidly developing area in southeastern Pennsylvania and the tri-state region. Nearly 700 separate plant species have been identified on the property, 15 of which are endangered, rare, threatened or vulnerable in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition, the Strawbridge property supports 3.5 miles of the Big Elk Creek – a tributary of the Elk River and the Chesapeake Bay.
“We simply don’t have many properties of this size left in our region,” said Blaine T. Phillips, Jr., Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for The Conservation Fund. “The opportunity to protect landscapes from one horizon to the other is compelling, and can only be accomplished by building partnerships and leveraging the conservation resources available. We are truly grateful to Senator Dinniman and the other partners who are stepping up to help make this happen.”
In Phase I, completed in 2009, TCF partnered with DCNR, Chester County, and the Mt. Cuba Center to purchase and preserve a 735-acre parcel in Elk Township between Strickersville Road and the Maryland border. That parcel has a 2.1 border that runs along the state line (also the Mason-Dixon Line) and is immediately adjacent to the 5,565-acre Fairhill Natural Resources Management Area, known for its pristine fields, woodlands, and natural beauty.
Phase II, which is now nearing completion thanks to the work of Dinniman, TCF and its other partners, calls for the acquisition and preservation of 982 acres, north of Phase I, in Elk, Franklin and New London Townships. Dinniman supported Phase II by working to help secure $3.5 million in total DCNR C2P2 grants ($1 million in 2016, $1 million in 2017, and $1.5 million this year). The Chester County Department of Open Space committed $5 million in funding and the Mt. Cuba Center committed $6.25 million. In total, $14.75 has been amassed for Phase II – just $1.5 million shy of the $16.25 million purchase price. TCF officials aim to close the deal by the end of next year.
Combined, both portions of the Strawbridge property and the NRMA, will result in a contiguous block of open, recreation space in excess of 7,000 acres – one of the largest in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“Land preservation is not easy work, but we are fortunate to have such skilled and generous partners, such as The Conservation Fund and the Mt. Cuba Center, in this endeavor,” Dinniman said. “We are now within striking distance of bringing this momentous conservation project to fruition. I am thankful for the incredible progress that has already been made and confident that we can cross this final hurdle in the year ahead.”