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.
Threats to This Preserve
Succession—the gradual replacement of barrens vegetation by woodlands caused by urban development—hinders fire and grazing required to maintain this habitat. Illegal dumping, mining and invasive plants also jeopardize this globally significant habitat.
Milestones at This Preserve
TNC joined Concerned Citizens of West Nottingham Township in 1979 to oppose a proposed serpentine rock quarry, and has acquired additional tracts containing this fragile habitat since then. In some cases, TNC transferred ownership to like-minded public and private landowners. In other cases, TNC retained ownership and long-term management, including prescribed burning, tree cutting, leaf removal, replanting serpentine grasses, protecting buffer lands, maintaining trails, and mapping and monitoring.
- Goat Hill (602 acres co-owned with Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Forestry): Acquired 592 acres in 1983. Transferred 100 acres to the State of Pennsylvania in 1990. Assist with managing the habitat.
- Chrome (390 acres co-owned with Elk Township): Acquired initial acreage in 1991 and additional lands in 1998 and 2002.
- Nottingham (630 acres owned by Chester County): Entered into a management agreement with Nottingham County Park in 2000 to manage, restore and pursue research at the site.
- Rock Springs (170 acres owned by Lancaster County Conservancy and private owner): Acquired 175 acres in 1995. Transferred the property to the Lancaster County Conservancy in 2005.
- Also New Texas Barrens (210 acres privately owned) and Pilot (92 acres co-owned with a private owner).