Check out one of Pennsylvania’s new state parks: Big Elk Creek in Chester County

3 miles of the Big Elk Creek, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay at the Elk River, is part of the newly designate Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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.

Canada geese (non-migratory) flock around Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday the designation of three new state parks, including 1,712 acres around Big Elk Creek.

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A Canada goose glows in the sunset as it soars over the newly designated Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa.
A Canada goose glows in the sunset as it soars over the newly designated Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa.

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.

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Wildlife big and small depend on preserved lands for survival in developing areas. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Wildlife big and small depend on preserved lands for survival in developing areas. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“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.”

A bumble bee and cucumber beetles hang out on solidago flowers, a native perennial that shows off in the fall, in Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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.

Foxtail grass, an introduced species in North America, now prevalent in meadows all over the world, lights up around the Fair Hill trail in the newly designated Elk Creek State Park. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Foxtail grass, an introduced species in North America, now prevalent in meadows all over the world, lights up around the Fair Hill trail in the newly designated Elk Creek State Park. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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.

A Northern mockingbird lands on a Callery pear in Pa.’s newly designated Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
There are already two established trails in Big Elk Creek State Park, 1,700-acres, now designated as a Pennsylvania State Park. Illustrated signs along the Spring Lawn Trail make it easy to stay on course. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
There are already two established trails in Big Elk Creek State Park, 1,700-acres, now designated as a Pennsylvania State Park. Illustrated signs along the Spring Lawn Trail make it easy to stay on course. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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.

Turkey Tail mushrooms grow on a stump at the newly designated Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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.

The Spring Lawn Trail through the newly designated Big Elk Creek State Park runs above and along the creek for about 2.5 miles. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
The Spring Lawn Trail through the newly designated Big Elk Creek State Park runs above and along the creek for about 2.5 miles. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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.

Vivian Stacy, Maryland Master Naturalist and tour leader with the Adkins Arboretum, and her 15-year old pup, Little Girl, walked the Spring Lawn Trail at the newly designated Big Elk Creek State Park looking for turning foliage on Tuesday, September 27, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
3 miles of the Big Elk Creek, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay at the Elk River, is part of the newly designate Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
3 miles of the Big Elk Creek, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay at the Elk River, is part of the newly designate Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Campion said he hopes to see more people enjoying the state park soon.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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