A Volunteer's Guide to Pennsylvania Preserves
Featuring The Nature Conservancy's work through my own unique lens.
by Gates Rhodes
After retiring from managing instructional media projects at the University of Pennsylvania for 37 years, I found myself pursuing two complimentary hobbies—photography and enjoying the outdoors. That led me to connecting with The Nature Conservancy, which boasts 13 public nature preserves in Pennsylvania.
I have made it my goal to visit and photograph each of TNC's Pennsylvania nature preserves—including some that are closed to the public in order to protect fragile habitat. As I embark on this journey, my goal is not to take the perfect picture. Rather, I aim to show people what they would see if they visited in person. My hope is that the photographs will entice people to support TNC's efforts to conserve plants, animals and critical habitats that represent our state's ecological diversity. Maybe the photographs will also encourage someone to visit in person someday.
Here I share some highlights from some of my favorite visits to TNC's Pennsylvania preserves, at least, so far.
The Dick and Nancy Eales Preserve at Moosic Mountain is a special place that boasts sweeping valley views from the top of a ridge surrounded by a landscape of low-lying shrubs and stunted pine and oak trees. With nine trails, visitors to the 2,256-acre Eales Preserve will find options of different lengths and difficulty (most moderate) for exploring diverse micro-environments and taking in breathtaking scenery. For example, the Blueberry Trail twists and turns through colorful meadows and barrens to reveal beautiful vistas across the mountainside and valley. The Conglomerate Trail, another option, loops through an area that is regenerating after a forest management controlled burn. After a shallow boulder field, Conglomerate meets with other trails, including one that leads to a waterfall. All of the preserve's trails are well marked and easily shared with other hikers, photographers, bird watchers and mountain bike enthusiasts who travel from far-and-wide to experience this outdoor destination.
I have enjoyed several visits to TNC's Long Pond Preserve and Hauser Nature Center to participate in family-friendly events and hikes on Cathy's Trail organized by their expert outdoor staff. Depending on the season, Cathy’s Trail—an approximately two-mile loop--is easy to follow and guides hikers through meadow and woodland settings. A portion of the trail boasts varied and colorful blueberry and goldenrod vegetation among many Tamarack Trees. It also takes you through sections of red spruce, beach, cherry and red maple forest. Some highlights include an unexpected wetland boreal coniferous swamp, a small boulder field from a retreating glacier and enchanting pockets of large rhododendron.
At the Thomas Darling Preserve, spongy sphagnum moss blankets an array of swamps, fens, bogs and wet meadows encircled by stands of balsam fir, tamarack and one of Pennsylvania’s largest native spruce forests. In spring, large sweet viburnum shrubs decorate the preserve with white, flat-topped flowers releasing a musty odor that earns them the nickname of “sheepberry.” A highlight of the preserve is a well marked, 2.2 mile trail that winds through the preserve's unique and delightful landscape. Two extensive boardwalks comprising part of the trail seem to blend right in to the natural environment while allowing visitors a safe and dry passage. Additional trail sections also twist through the forested areas that lead to the swiftly moving Two Mile Creek., which flows from an expansive, colorful meadow area into a deeper forested area to provide an interesting contrast. I am almost always treated to several species of water fowl enjoying the quiet pools along the creek and often see white tail deer on my hikes.