A Remarkable 86-acre Nature Preserve for All to Enjoy
Acquired through Extraordinary Support from Private Individuals and County and State Funding
The story began in 1986 when Elizabeth and William Van Alen took the bold step of placing a conservation easement on their land at Delchester and Goshen Roads when donating easements was still a new and courageous thing to do. While the easement allowed for four house sites on the eighty acres, it precluded outright development of the land in perpetuity.
Fast forward to 2003, when Janet and John Haas visited the 30 acre portion of the Rushton Woods fronting on Delchester Road and were inspired by its majestic beech, hickory and oak canopy trees (some over 200 years old) and the health of the understory of native shrubs and wildflowers. At about the same time, experts from Audubon Pennsylvania had identified the Rushton Woods as a prime stop-over and nesting habitat for the many migratory songbirds that visit it each year, and one of the most critical sites for bird conservation in Audubon’s newly designated Ridley/Crum Important Bird Area. Later that year, Janet and John Haas enabled the acquisition of the thirty-acre Rushton Woods by the National Audubon Society. In 2007, National Audubon transferred the woods to the Willistown Conservation Trust with an agreement to eliminate all building rights under the original easement and to ensure that it be preserved and managed as primary woodland habitat forever.
The next chapter in this conservation story focuses on the remaining critical fifty-acre tract of land that lies between the original thirty-acre Rushton Woods Preserve and Goshen Road. This land was also part of the original Van Alen conservation easement and is home to a rich array of natural, scenic and recreational resources and habitat types including mature woodland, wetlands, wooded riparian areas, emerging native grasslands, old hedgerows and an extensive network of established riding trails. Additionally, six acres of this parcel has provided the site for the Trust’s popular Community Farm Program and Rushton Farm CSA since 2007.
Needless to say, all of us at the Trust have had a compelling dream to acquire the fifty-acres to add to the Rushton Woods Preserve and to create a new eighty acre preserve in the heart of the Willistown countryside. This acquisition by the Trust would not only further protect all of the wonderful critical resources of the property but it would make the land accessible forever to everyone in our community and beyond. It would provide a resource for Trust educational and stewardship programs, events, recreational opportunities and a permanent home for the Community Farm Program and Rushton Farm CSA.
Rushton Land Associates, LLC, a remarkable partnership of friends and neighbors who, even in the face of a dramatic economic downturn, banded together to acquire the fifty-acre Rushton Woods Preserve Addition as a “straw party buyer” on behalf of the Willistown Conservation Trust with the intention of selling it to the Trust when enough funds were raised to complete the purchase. The Trust formally acquired the property on June 25, 2010, from Rushton Land Associates, for the bargain sale price of $3.9 million.
The project has enjoyed extraordinary public support at the state and county level. The Trust has been awarded a grant of $500,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and three generous grants totaling $2 million from Chester County for the project. The Chester County awards were part of the County’s Preservation Partnership Program, which provides funding to non-profit land trusts for land conservation and trail projects.
The final phase of the purchase obligation was reached in the spring of 2012 when the Trust raised $1,200,000 in private donations and received a $200,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In 2013 an additional six acres located on Delchester Road, including the “White Farmhouse”, was added to the preserve with funds raised from the Willistown Countryside Forever capital Campaign. The White Farmhouse was renovated for farm and stewardship staff and intern housing and has greatly enhanced the Trust’s ability to attract top notch talent.
The Trust would like to express profound gratitude to John and Janet Haas, National Audubon, Chester County, The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, The Pew Charitable Trusts and all of the friends, neighbors and community members who have supported the creation of Rushton Woods Preserve.
If you’d like to help us maintain Rushton Woods Preserve, please make a donation today.