Tuesday, February 16 2021 4:39

The Solace of Nature

Written by Oliver Bass, President of Natural Lands

It may be the best remedy

Before the pandemic, we were living in a world of rapid and continuous change. Since the COVID-19  crisis began, however, it feels that everything is changing, and at an even more dizzying pace. The most fundamental routines of our lives have been interrupted and many may never again be as they were. It’s no wonder observers say that, as a society, we are in a heightened state of agitation and fear.

It’s also no wonder more people than ever are turning to nature as a remedy.

Spending More Time Outdoors

By now, you’ve probably heard about or witnessed for yourself the unprecedented visitation to nature preserves and parks that’s been triggered by the pandemic. Natural Lands has experienced this firsthand. Visits to many of our nature preserves have grown three-fold or more since March 2020.

It’s as if an ancient strand of our DNA has been awakened, calling us to spend time among the trees, fields, streams and open skies. And why not? What better salve for the exhausting mental and psychological toll of rapid, unpredictable change than natural landscapes that provide solid ground on which to walk.

A hawk circling as it rises on a thermal, waves of wind across a field of golden grass, the melodic call of a bluebird. Nature has a steady rhythm and flow of its own. One that is a perfect counterbalance to the unprecedented disruption we are experiencing.

When I walk at one of Natural Lands’ 43 nature preserves or Stoneleigh: a natural garden, I connect with and delight in that rhythm and flow. And I rejoice in knowing those remarkable places and the 400+ properties on which we hold conservation easements will remain substantially as they are, forever.

Conserved places—like all of nature—are not immune to change, but they represent constancy in a world that offers little.

The pandemic will pass. We will be changed by it. Other challenges will emerge. Change will persist, but so will the nearly 50,000 acres of nature under Natural Lands’ protection. From all of us at Natural Lands, I hope you’ll take a moment to go outdoors and breathe deeply.

Here are three of my favorite places that you may enjoy discovering.


Crow’s Nest Preserve in Elverson

Hike along the preserve’s Deep Woods Trail and you’ll pass by piles of discarded granite cobblestones, evidence of an old quarry. You’ll emerge from this trail onto Northside Road, a sleepy country lane that was once frequented by love-struck youth on their way to the “courting tree.”

Local legend has it that this majestic black gum—which turns crimson each fall—was where late 19th-century romances blossomed as beaus pushed young ladies on a swing tied to its broadly spreading branches. This area once supplied wood for the nearby Hopewell Furnace, but it’s believed the tree—about 150 years old—was spared because gum wood was difficult to split down for the charring process.


Sadsbury Woods Preserve in Coatesville

Located about 20 miles south of Crow’s Nest, the 513-acre Sadsbury Woods Preserve includes one of the largest remaining, unfragmented woodlands in Chester County. Bring your binoculars! The preserve’s “interior woodlands” (defined as an area at least 300 feet from any edge, such as a road or meadow) provide critical habitat for many songbirds.

From the parking area, follow the Compass Quarry Trail for 1.5 miles to the remains of the old quarry. Bear left onto the Step Rocks Trail to access the step rocks themselves, a spectacular rock bluff that offers a great observation point.


Bear Creek Preserve in Bear Creek

It’s worth the drive north to visit this 3,565-acre property in the Lehigh River Watershed that Natural Lands acquired in 2006. The 30-plus miles of trails wind through rocky, forested terrain.

The purple loop trail is one of my favorites for the many waterfalls it passes. Or take the red trail for a bit, off of the main parking lot, until you get to the gray trail that follows along Shades Creek, taking you to the suspension bridge. There’s something so fun about crossing the creek on that swinging bridge with the water rushing beneath you.

In late May/early June, the woods have a soft pink glow from all the native mountain laurel in bloom.


Note: Learn more about these preserves and others and get trail maps at NatLands.org/visit. The preserves are generally less crowded early in the day. If the parking lot is full, please come again another time.

Natural Lands is dedicated to preserving and nurturing nature’s wonders while creating opportunities for joy and discovery in the outdoors for everyone. As the region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization, member-supported Natural Lands has preserved more than 125,000 acres, including 43 nature preserves and one public garden totaling more than 23,000 acres. Nearly 5 million people live within 5 miles of land under Natural Lands’ protection. Land for life, nature for all. NatLands.org.