In Chadds Ford Township, not far from Dilworthtown Village and just across from the Brinton 1704 House off Oakland Road, 72 acres of rolling fields remain much as they were hundreds of years ago. And they’ll stay that way, thanks to a network of local nonprofits. The land is now protected under a conservation easement, and work begins this fall to ensure that Briton Run Preserve opens next spring.
Right now, 92 native plant species and a large number of pollinators populate the parcel. That, plus a large pond and tributary of Brandywine Creek that leads to protected areas, convinced North American Land Trust to spearhead a movement to acquire the space, negotiate the easement and raise $3.85 million to foot the bill.
Since it was formed in 1992, NALT has protected more than 135,000 acres across the United States. The Chadds Ford-based nonprofit has acquired more than 500 easements to protect grasslands, wetlands, coastlines and other areas. Brinton Run is a milestone for NALT. “This is the first property we wanted to acquire and open for public use,” says Steven Carter, NALT’s president. “The Brandywine Valley is our home, and this space is three miles from our current headquarters. Then, in 2019, the historical context became clear.”
Carter is referring to Sept. 11, 1777, when the Continental Army fought the British in the Battle of Brandywine. Surprised by the attack and outnumbered by an estimated 7,000 soldiers, Gen. George Washington ordered a retreat. He marched his army all the way to Germantown, leaving the path clear for the British to occupy Philadelphia.
It’s not a happy history, but it’s an important part of the Revolution, which is why the American Battlefield Trust joined NALT’s efforts to protect the land. Meanwhile, the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program offered a $1.8 million grant, one of the largest ever awarded to a Revolutionary War site.
Brinton Run’s future also piqued the interest of Mt. Cuba Center, the 1,000-plus-acre botanical garden and conservation program based in Hockessin, Del., that has preserved more than 13,000 acres in the Mid-Atlantic region. In 11 years, the center has bestowed over $100 million in grants, and Brinton Run is among the recipients.
The land’s array of native plants was a key motivator for Jeff Downing, Mt. Cuba Center’s executive director. “It’s been shown that a diversity of native plants supports other native wildlife,” he says. “If you don’t have [that], you’re missing a rung on the food chain. This place has a healthy mix that makes other wildlife happily call it home.”
Birds and bees will benefit, and Brinton Run is within migratory and pollination paths to Mt. Cuba Center. “If you have native plants—even in remnant spaces—wildlife will find them and use them,” says Downing.
The open space will be gently renovated to make it hospitable for humans. The property’s 8,300-square-foot house is being demolished to make way for a trail system, restrooms and other amenities. “The house is in the middle of the property and has commanding views,” Carter says. “But it’s in the way, and it’s not historically relevant.”
The Baldino family purchased the property in 2008. At the time, they lived on adjacent land, and they never occupied the home. “We were undecided as to what to do with it,” says Sandra Baldino. “Unfortunately, [my husband] Frank passed away before we were able to decide the best course of action.”
In 2013, Baldino approached NALT to get an analysis of the land’s vegetation and wildlife. She did consider selling to a residential developer, but those plans fell through. Six years later, Baldino reconnected with NALT. “Rather than pursue development, NALT had a unique proposition that intrigued me, which was to not only conserve the land but to purchase it for a public preserve,” she says. “I loved the idea.”
Indeed, Baldino’s passion for the project is matched only by her generosity. The land would’ve fetched a hefty sum from any number of developers looking to build homes in that residentially desirable pocket of Chester County. But Baldino was patient.
It took NALT two years to stitch together a funding network to purchase the property. It includes the aforementioned organizations, plus Chadds Ford Township, Delaware County’s Open Space and Recreation Grant Program and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The diversity of funding partners is significant,” Carter says. “We baked the proverbial cake together, and it was a great collaboration. We’re grateful and proud of this—and Sandra Baldino is the star of the show. She’s a philanthropist at heart and has conservation at the center of her ethics and morals.”
When Brinton Run opens to the public in spring 2022, it will have a loop trail with interpretive signage and a community-based land steward concept, along with programming on permaculture and invasive species pond and wildlife management. “We’re trying to create more natural areas in more localities,” Downing says. “It’s as restorative for humans as it is for wildlife.”