Prior to European settlement, Native Americans used fires to attract large animals grazing across grasslands stretching from New York, across central Maryland and south to Alabama. Cactus-like vegetation thrived in this dry landscape. As more and more settlement took place, these grasslands, once sustained by fires and grazing, disappeared. Today, they persist in only a few places.
Located along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, the State Line Serpentine Barrens contains some of the last major remnants of serpentine grassland in eastern North America. The thin soils covering this light-green bedrock contain high levels of nickel, chromium and other metals that prove toxic to most plants and animals. This habitat, while lacking nutrients, supports unusual, rare or endangered species that have adapted to the harsh environment over thousands of years.
The Nature Conservancy has worked to protect globally rare serpentine barrens since 1979, when it joined Chester County’s Concerned Citizens of West Nottingham Township to oppose quarrying the serpentine rock. The partnership blocked the project, and prevented further damage to surrounding natural areas. Since then, TNC has worked with partners at the township, county and state levels, as well as with private individuals, to permanently protect and manage additional tracts containing this fragile habitat.