Bucks County Herald

Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here

Happy Natural lands

Natural Lands has announced that Oliver Bass will become its next president as the new year begins. Bass, currently vice president of communications and engagement, succeeds Molly Morrison, who will retire at the end of the year after a 14-year tenure in the role.

Bass takes the reins at Natural Lands during a period of remarkable growth, according to a press release. Over the last decade, the organization has preserved permanently more than 32,000 acres of open space in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

The following text includes excerpts from a column I wrote for the April 7, 2016 issue of the Herald, when the nonprofit organization was known as Natural Lands Trust.

Natural Lands maintains 44 nature preserves the 1,282-acre ChesLen Preserve in Chester County; the 3,565-acre Bear Creek Preserve in Lackawanna County; Natural Lands’ first Berks County property, the 201-acre Green Hills Preserve; and the organizations’ first public garden, Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden in Montgomery County. Lands go as far south as Salem and Cumberland counties in New Jersey and as far north as Wayne and Pike counties in Pennsylvania.

In Bucks County, Natural Lands holds the Diabase Farm Preserve, 121 acres in Upper Makefield Township; the Klaber Preserve, 9 acres in Quakertown; and the Paunacussing Preserve, 102 acres in Mechanicsville.

Nearby, in Easton, Northampton County, there’s the Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary, perched on Bougher Hill overlooking the Delaware River. A highlight is the River Lookout Trail, with an overlook of both the canal and the river 300 feet below.

The trust holds easements on 47 properties – a total of 1,840 acres – in Bucks County, including 540 acres in the Aquetong watershed in Solebury Township.

And the trust has been under contract as open space consultant in Warrington Township and has worked with townships in the northwestern part of Bucks County to review open space ordinances.

In the spring of 2016, I walked the Paunacussing Preserve and Diabase Farm with Oliver Bass, then vice president for communications and engagement, Scott Wendle, vice president for preserve stewardship and Preston Wilson, preserve manager.

Paunacussing Preserve, at the headwaters of Paunacussing Creek, which flows into the Delaware at Lumberville, is on Holicong Road between U.S. Route 202 and Pa. Route 413 in Buckingham Township. The first deed to the land was dated April 26, 1790. Among its owners was James Hansell, who, in 1872, found the Lenape Stone, a piece of slate of questionable origin, reputed to show Native Americans hunting a woolly mammoth.

The land was known as Coltsneck Farm when Charles and May Coiner purchased it in 1932. Charles was one of America’s most influential advertising designers of the 20th century.

Coiner worked for N.W. Ayer and Sons in Philadelphia. He was commercially successful and a contributor to the government’s recovery efforts in the Great Depression. He designed the blue eagle logo that symbolized the National Recovery Act, which helped to get unemployed people working again. Later, he designed posters and the civil defense symbols during World War II.

The Coiners transferred their land to the Natural Lands Trust in 1985 with a provision that Charles and his wife could live out their lives on the property. Charles Coiner died in 1989, May Coiner in 1997. Their Bucks County stone farmhouse, sold by the trust, is now in private ownership, across the road from the preserve’s public land.

The acreage consists of meadow, pasture, woodland and pond. Volunteers planted 6,000 trees, then cleared the way for wetlands to return. Altogether they planted 100,000 shrubs. “It was easy because it was all mud,” Wilson said.

A wildflower meadow – a pollinator garden – was planted as a way to attract butterflies and bees.

There’s been a gradual buildup of habitat for birds and other animals through tree planting and filling in of old agricultural fields although farming continues on some of the land.

A pathway, cut in wide swaths through grass, meanders through woods and open fields. Rustic benches are placed near the pond and 2x4 walkways are hobbled together in muddy areas. There’s not yet parking space for a large number of cars.

Farther south, Diabase Farm, on Street Road near Jericho Mountain, is just that – a working farm with much of its land cultivated. The trust has an office there and an old cinder block outbuilding for tractors and building materials.

Diabase Farm was purchased in 1932 by Charlotte and George Dyer, who were intelligence officers in World War II.

After the war they taught political science classes at Yale, Barnard and the Wharton School. They founded the Dyer Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at the farm and taught classes on covert intelligence and analysis there. They held paramilitary training classes, complete with firearms training to fight the threat of Communiism.

Diabase Farm, known for its stunning vistas, is on Street Road near Jericho Mountain and not far from the northern section of Washington Crossing Historic Park.

George Dyer died in 1978. Charlotte donated the full farm in 1984 four years before her death, to the Natural Lands Trust, which put all but 24 acres in a conservation easement. Using its practice of selling some properties as one way to support its mission, the trust sold the Dyers’ house to Robert Infarinato and sold the development rights on the 24 acres to Upper Makefield Township for $24,000 per acre.

It was a controversial move on the township’s part. with some supervisors balking at the price but Molly Morrison assured them the money from the purchase would be added to the farm’s endowment fund, which is invested and the interest used for the ongoing maintenance and care for the property.

When Mrs. Dyer gave her property to the Natural Lands Trust in 1984 she did not provide an endowment for the ongoing care of the property.

Paunacussing and Diabase are just two of the Natural Lands sites totaling 20,000 preserved acres open to the public free of charge throughout the year. Those acres have 103 miles of maintained trails and more than 230 miles of streams.

“Our mission – to save open space, care for nature, and connect people to the outdoors – has a tangible and permanent impact on the environmental, economic, and social health of our region,” Bass said as he prepared to lead Natural Lands.

“There is nothing I can imagine to be more fulfilling than working alongside the Board and my remarkable colleagues to extend these benefits to even more of the region’s communities.”




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