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Friday, October 1, 2021

Hiking the Hausmann Trail in ChesLen Preserve

So far, our stay in Chester County, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia, has involved just about everything other than our usual outdoor activities.  Each weekend day has been absorbed in visiting family in the area, and most of the weekdays have been devoted to having our water heater replaced, restocking our refrigerator, and fussing with a minor leak from the new water heater.  Luckily, our campground is lovely, and little Ruby kitten has enjoyed exploring it.  We've enjoyed morning walks in the area, including down by the Brandywine Creek, which flows past the campground.

One reason we like this campground is that the 1,282-acre ChesLen Preserve sits right across the road from us.  It is one of the region's largest private nature preserves.  It was the vision of local philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, whose donation of 568 acres to the Natural Lands Trust inspired Chester County to transfer 500 additional acres.  Subsequent purchases of additional lands rounded out the Preserve as we know it today.

We were here in May 2014, when we used ChesLen Preserve for some soggy hiking after a flood, and for long-distance running to train for the 2014 Broad Street Run in Philly with Katie and Matt.

It's a real luxury to be able to start out a major hike right from our doorstep, but today we were able to do that, so our trailhead selfie got to be taken on our own patio!

If we cheated and wanted to trespass on railroad land, we could have walked the nearby tracks of the East Penn Railroad (formerly the Wilmington & Northern Railroad) directly from our campground into the Preserve.  As it was, workers were busy on the nearby tracks, so we decided to direct our feet up Embreeville Road, past some of the historic buildings that sit between the road and beautiful Brandywine Creek:

The road-walking portion of our hike took us up past the Stargazers' Stone. In 1763, surveyors and astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon came to the New World to end a bloody, 80-year boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Their survey established the official line between the two colonies and stands among the greatest scientific achievements of the time. A reference point, now known as Star Gazers’ Stone, was placed to mark the astronomical meridian line north of their observatory on the nearby Harlan Farm. The Star Gazers’ Stone and a small plot of surrounding land are now part of ChesLen Preserve and are accessible from a parking area at the northern end of the property. Take a look at our May 2014 blog entry on the Stargazers' Stone if you want to learn more about it.

But we digress.  We continued on our hike to the entrance of ChesLen Preserve across a bridge over the Brandywine.  We were surprised to hear a lot of commotion and, looking downstream from atop the bridge, we saw canoe after canoe launching into the Creek.  Spotting several vans with empty canoe trailers at the informal boat ramp in the Preserve, we asked one of the people there what was happening.  He said that several local schools were having a science outing on Brandywine Creek, and his canoe rental company was providing the canoes.  We were mightily impressed:

Brandywine Creek was beautiful today.  It was a Bluebird Day, and the water had settled down into a merry, clear little stream after having raged chocolate brown a week ago:

Our path, the Peter O. Hausmann Trail, led out into the Preserve past some of the canoe tow vehicles:

Before continuing on the trail, however, we reviewed the information kiosk.

ChesLen Preserve was once part of a 17,000-acre tract owned by the legendary Texas-based King Ranch, which expanded to this area so their cattle could graze on the lush fields and fatten up before sale. They gained nearly two pounds a day during their six-to-ten-month stay. ChesLen’s agricultural past also includes sod farming and mushroom production.

The trail we hiked is named after Peter Hausmann, the current Chaiperson of the Natural Lands Trust.  David confirmed that our path lay in the direction behind him:

Shortly down the Hausmann Trail, we came to a small cemetery which is a remnant of the Chester County Poorhouse, once located nearby. Built in 1798, the poorhouse was a place of refuge for orphans and indigent adults. Its construction represented a vast improvement in the treatment of paupers who, less than a century earlier, were forced to wear a scarlet “P” on their sleeves and risked being beaten or driven out of the county. The poorhouse expanded over the years to include an asylum for the mentally ill and eventually became the Embreeville State Mental Hospital, in operation until 1980.

The 1-acre plot contains 204 numbered markers laid out row upon row:

Climbing further from the Potters Field, we came to the first of several viewpoints.  This one let us gaze North toward the Stargazers' Stone:

It is early Fall, and, while the Preserve doesn't have many Fall-blooming wildflower, we did see some beautiful clover --

-- as well cornflower.

Much of the Preserve is open acreage that is leased out to a local farmer who grows corn, soybeans and hay.  Many of the fields have been recently harvested, and Kathy found a fresh-looking cob of corn amid dried leaves and pieces of stalk:

The Lenfest Center, which serves as headquarters for the Preserve, sits near the middle of the Preserve's north-south reach.  A beautiful modern building, it nevertheless has a low profile and does not dominate the landscape it administers:

Nearing the far end of our out-and-back hike, we reached another viewpoint giving us a grand look at the Preserve property:

The trail sweeps up and down gently rolling hills, between swaths of grass and cut fields.  The rich blue sky and small, puffy clouds provided the perfect accent to our view:

Starting back after lunch at another viewpoint, we came across this lone tree.  Kathy said it must be an Ent with a crazy cap:

As we finished the 7.7 mile hike, we decided to follow through on that cheating scheme and hike back out from the near corner of the Preserve along the railroad tracks.  Most of the workers and their trucks had gone, but we were waved through by one lone worker who was loading bags of feed and other materials from railcars, destined, we inferred, for the nearby Embreeville Mill, which we had photographed on a morning's walk the other day:

Our long hike left us pleasantly tired.  We returned to the RV for a warm shower, a walk for Miss Ruby Kitten, and then some blogging.  We have a visit to our nephew Tom, his wife Michelle, and their two children, complete with Happy Hour and a Friday night dinner.


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