Watershed Protection

Saved! 1,500-acre Bryn Coed Farms spared from development

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2017
Source: Daily Local News

The historic, environmentally significant, and much cherished Bryn Coed Farms property in northern Chester County has officially been preserved, the head of the organization that has been working to save its land from potential development for half a decade said Thursday.

Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands, announced that the conservation group had formally settled with the owners of the 1,500-acre property in the Chester Springs area June 1, transferring the property to the organization and paving the way for a large public nature preserve among the rolling hills and stream vistas along scenic St. Matthews Road.

“It certainly hasn’t been a linear journey,” Morrison said in a telephone interview about the five-year-long process that ended with removing the dozen or more cobbled-together farm properties from the threat of being sold to a housing developer. “And the outcome was not always assured.

“But at the end of the day, we are really happy about being able to celebrate this milestone.” Saying she did not want to sound too “over the top” with pleasure at the outcome of the organization’s efforts, Morrison nevertheless called the successful plan to preserve the farms “spectacular.”

The announcement came days after the formal conclusion of Natural Lands’ public campaign to raise money that would be dedicated to the creation of a 500-acre preserve open to the public at the farm, featuring hiking, equestrian, and recreational trails. Although the campaign fell short of the goal of raising $5 million from individual donors, officials said it would continue through the year to raise the final $750,000. Its annual fundraiser will be held tonight.

A total of $4.2 million was raised by June 1, with nearly 500 households contributing amounts from $5 to $500,000, the organization said in a release. The effort was bolstered by a challenge grant from the William Penn Foundation for $2 million it would match if the campaign raised a similar amount. The community campaign raised more than $2.2 million, Morrison said.

“It’s been a wonderfully moving experience to see this tangible outpouring of love for this iconic property,” she said. “We have just under $750,000 left to raise in order to fulfill our vision of a 500-acre nature preserve – one that will be a treasured gem in the community and the county for generations.” The more money the organization is able to raise, the more land it will be able to keep as a nature preserve – one that will be open daily, free of charge.

The remainder of the 1,505 acres will be protected via a series of lots with conservation easements that will be sold to private buyers. Morrison said that the 40 parcels of varying sizes had been laid out for subdivision from the main property, each with a specific “building envelope” that buyers are shown, specifying where they can construct the single new home allowed in the easement.

Morrison said, however, that many of the properties already have homes on them that the buyers who have come forward in some cases have said they would restore. “It is pretty cool that people are taking the advantage to purchase these properties,” she noted.

Much of Bryn Coed Farms was once the property of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts. Most recently, that parcel and other smaller farms were owned by the Dietrich family, heirs to the Ludens cough drop fortune. The entire property stretches north and south of St. Matthews Road in West Vincent and East Pikeland and West Pikeland.

Morrison, in her interview, paid tribute to the Dietrich family for its dedication to seeing whether the land could be preserved rather than developed.

“Each conservation transaction starts with a willing landowner,” she said, all of whom have “a myriad of choices for the future of their property.” The Dietrichs had shown from the time when they began buying up the smaller farms adjoining Roberts’ home that they had a “land ethic.”

“We have to give real credit to the Dietrich family for choosing conservation when other options were available to them. The role of their family was truly the first step toward conservation. To have been able to partner with them for Natural Lands is really a once in a lifetime opportunity. These landscapes don’t exist any more in Chester County without being altered.”

The importance of Bryn Coed to the region is not just an aesthetic one, supporters said.

“The scale of this project and its impact on water quality in Pickering Creek, a tributary of the Schuylkill River, make this a regionally significant opportunity to create permanently protected open space with substantial public access that will also have lasting effects on our clean water,” said Andrew Johnson, program director for watershed protection at the William Penn Foundation. “It is truly exciting that Natural Lands has demonstrated its expertise in making this complicated transaction happen, and that the community has stepped up with significant funding.”

Tonight, the Campaign for Bryn Coed will get an additional boost when Natural Lands holds its annual Stardust fundraising event. The sold-out gala is being held at Binky Lee Preserve, which Natural Lands acquired in 1989. The preserve boasts a magnificent hilltop view of Bryn Coed Farms. The event is being co-chaired by Chester Springs residents George and Christy Martin, and Peter and Eliza Zimmerman. Proceeds from Stardust will go toward the public campaign.

“Opportunities to protect landscapes like Bryn Coed Farms don’t come around every day, or even every lifetime,” said the Martins in a release.

“We’ve worked neighbor by neighbor and friend by friend. We knew the community wouldn’t squander this opportunity,” echoed the Zimmermans.

In addition to the Penn foundation and the public campaign, the effort to preserve Bryn Coed has contributions from Chester County’s Office of Open Space, the state Department of Environmental Resources, and the open space programs in local townships.

Morrison noted that the effort was not only professionally satisfying, but personally fulfilling as well. Her grandparents’ farm is nearby, and she spent time as a child visiting there. “It is part of the landscape of my childhood, and it relates back to my own roots in Chester County.”

A public celebration of the efforts to save Bryn Coed will likely be held later this year.

Natural Lands, formerly Natural Lands Trust, is dedicated to preserving and nurturing nature’s wonders while creating opportunities for joy and discovery in the outdoors for everyone. As the Greater Philadelphia region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization, Natural Lands has preserved more than 125,000 acres, including 44 nature preserves totaling more than 23,000 acres.

Contributions to the Campaign for Bryn Coed Farms can be made at bryncoedfarms.org/give.

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