Photo by Tessa Marie Images
East Goshen’s Bill Gladden has dedicated his career to land conservation. The director of Chester County’s Department of Open Space Preservation works with the county and its residents to help maintain a certain amount of preserved land, ensuring it’s there for future generations. In 2015, the county hit 50,000 preserved acres. Since, Gladden has been working to move the mission forward.
MLT: Where did your interest in conservation come from?
BG: I was born and raised in a small western Pennsylvania town where I enjoyed the outdoors. In college, I studied abroad in Yugoslavia, the Netherlands and England. I saw a lot of differing qualities of life [and] approaches to land use. I came away with an even deeper appreciation for the wealth of resources we are blessed with in the United States, as well as the responsibility that leaves us with in terms of stewardship.
MLT: How is the county doing with its goal to preserve 30 percent of its land?
BG: Currently, about 27 percent of the county is preserved. With current funding levels and real-estate values, we’ve been adding about one percent every two years. At that rate, we’ll reach the goal in 2023. County funding has played a key role in our preservation efforts. Our local townships are stepping up as critical partners. Even with all the development, there are a lot of special places left to be preserved.
MLT: In what ways does land preservation benefit residents?
BG: The main categories of benefits include what are often called ecosystem services, [which] benefit us all by providing clean air and water, food, and flood control. Preserved land provides a wonderful opportunity for a wide range of recreation, from organized athletics on fields to an informal walk through the woods. When I think about what kind of legacy I want to be a part of, it includes preservation.
MLT: What are some ways residents can help?
BG: Visit a park or preserve. Go for a walk or bike ride on a trail. Let your elected officials know how important these places are, that you value land preservation, and if you are willing to support it with your tax dollars. Pitch in and help with work days like tree plantings or cutting vines so they don’t strangle out the trees.
MLT: What is your hope for the future of land preservation across Southeastern Pennsylvania?
BG: I hope that we leave a legacy of sound land stewardship by making wise land-use decisions. I hope the wonderful, beautiful, inspiring places we have preserved are not compromised, that we continue to preserve the remaining special places throughout the commonwealth. For Southeastern Pennsylvania, I hope we can somehow maintain a balance of preservation as the pace of development picks back up.
MLT: What are some of the other initiatives and goals going forward?
BG: We are pressing forward on several fronts. There are two specific projects that are really exciting due to their size and public benefit. [One is] a partnership with a national private nonprofit conservation organization to preserve almost 1,000 acres as a second addition to the state’s White Clay Creek management area. The second is a result of over five years of work by the Natural Lands Trust to preserve roughly 1,500 acres over three townships in the northeastern portion of Chester County.