It’s a home to bog turtles, short-eared owls, and three rare varieties of orchids. It’s a resting place for migratory birds. And now Big Elk Creek in Chester County is a state park.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday the designation of three new state parks, including 1,712 acres around Big Elk Creek.
At the edge of a grass meadow and a trailhead leading to the Big Elk Creek, a high-quality stream popular for fishing and a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, Manager-on-site Robert Campion said the area is an important corridor for wildlife in a constantly developing area.
“The state park is crucial for protecting them,” Campion said, referring to the flora and fauna. “People need green space, too. It can’t be understated how important it is to have these spaces, learning how to be stewards of the environment, so close to their homes.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is working with the National Park Service to develop a process for getting public input and developing a strategy to manage the land properly. Campion said improvements and changes will happen slowly over the next few years.
Part of Big Elk Creek was already managed by the nearby White Clay Creek Preserve. The park has approximately 600 acres of woodlands and 100 acres of grass meadows, with two established trails. The state park designation is meaningful because more land management — tree and meadow plantings, and the addition of trails, picnic areas, and other manmade structures — will create more opportunities for recreation and environmental education.
And with more reasons to visit the park, there will be more opportunities for people to learn about how Indigenous people depended on the creek for transport and resources, and people fleeing slavery in the South used it as an important spot in the Underground Railroad.
Few were out on the trail Tuesday afternoon. An archer looking to scope out deer hunting locations asked Campion if he was permitted to use his mountain bike on the trail, and only one jogger passed by.
Vivian Stacy, a master naturalist and nature-walk guide with the Adkins Arboretum, was out with her dog looking for changing leaves. She said she was concerned about invasive species, and hoped there’d be some remediation efforts in the new park, and more trails to enjoy.
Campion said he hopes to see more people enjoying the state park soon.
Saturdays just got more interesting.