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Bonnie Van Alen

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Lush woods and rolling hills are an integral part of the Main Line and its western suburbs. But if it weren’t for folks like Bonnie Van Alen, large chunks of that landscape would be swallowed up by commercial development. 

Van Alen saw the need for conservation easements way back in 1979, the year that she created Willistown Conservation Trust as a satellite of the Brandywine Conservancy. She’d worked in education and at the Academy of Natural Sciences, so she put those skills to good use with WCT. “It was about preserving the oasis of open space that defined the countryside,” says Van Alen. “I feel a strong passion for preserving nature and wildlife, and it turned out my neighbors did, too. Many landowners were willing to restrict the future of their properties and place conservation easements on them.”

WCT’s domain encompasses 28,000 acres of land bounded by the Ridley, Crum and Darby watersheds. Of that acreage, 7,200 have been preserved, thanks to 150 landowners who donated easements to protect their properties. 

WCT has many programs, including a strong bird-conservation effort and a working farm with a CSA that’s 120 families strong. This spring, the  organization will begin construction on a new timber-frame barn that will have a teaching kitchen, a gathering space, and a dining area for farm-to-table dinners. 

Even so, WCT faces challenges. Chief among them is maintaining kids’ connections to the outdoors. “Because children are so programmed with sports and other activities, they spend much less time now doing free play and being out in the woods using their imaginations and exploring,” says Van Alen. “Getting them connected back with nature is important. It’s they who protect the land in future generations.”

Photo by Jim Graham

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