Welkinweir's natural areas are dominated by hardwood forest on moderate to steep slopes that end in a gently sloping stream valley running east to west through the center of the property. Located within the 73,000 acre Hopewell Big Woods whose large, unbroken forests are one of the most important natural areas in southeastern Pennsylvania. Tall grass meadows and successional areas straddle the stream and pond complex (a series of six man-made ponds, increasing in size from 1/4 acre to 6 acres) within the valley. This greenway corridor provides foraging and nesting sites for a great variety of songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl, preserving the rapidly vanishing pastoral landscape that has characterized Chester County for the past 200 years.
The most mature forest on the property, located at the southwest portion of the site, is a second growth red oak - mixed hardwood forest community, established about 1850. This forest has been relatively undisturbed since that time. Red oak, chestnut oak, tulip tree, American beech, and black birch dominate the canopy. Associated canopy species are big tooth aspen, white ash, and pignut hickory. An understory of flowering dogwood, black cherry, spicebush, maple leaf viburnum and blueberry and an abundance of woodland wildflowers, including Christmas and rattlesnake ferns, wood asters, wild geranium, hepatica, bellwort, and Canada mayflower give a good structural diversity and wildlife food. This forest provides critical habitat to interior forest birds, especially neo-tropical songbirds, such as scarlet tanagers, northern orioles, woodpeckers (including the flashy pileated), veerys, and ovenbirds.
Heading east, the forest is young to maturing tulip tree - beech - maple forest community, having been released from cultivation in the mid 1930's. The Horse-Shoe Trail, which connects the Schuykill River Trail in Valley Forge National Historic Park with the Appalachian Trail north of Hershey, PA, runs along the ridgeline. Hiking trails traverse the lower and mid slopes through the canopy which also includes white ash, black walnut, red maple, mockernut hickory with an understory of sassafras, red cedar and a number of viburnum species. An old roadbed, now a trail, connects the bridge across the waterfalls with the Horse-Shoe Trail. This forest provides an abundance of cavity trees and snags important for wildlife.
The riparian forest and the pond complex are used extensivley by wildlife due to the abundance of water. This riparian buffer area is a mix of red maple palustrine forest and maturing second growth tulip tree - beech - maple forests which protect the water quality of the exceptional value Beaver Run, a tributary to French Creek. The upper ponds have started to silt in resulting in the stream's course becoming evident again. Wetland plant species have colonized the area attracting an abundance of animals including frogs, toads, painted turtles, otter and mink. Numerous birds including ducks, kingfishers, herons, and osprey feed directly from the water while other species, such as warblers, flycatchers, and woodcock harvest invertebrates associated with acquatic and wetland areas.
A foot trail circles the pond system, anchored by the circa 1830 springhouse where one can observe dragonflies hovering near native wildflowers, hear peepers and other frogs, and marvel at the industriousness of a resident beaver.
Formerly pastures, the meadows further diversify the wildlife within the property. They provide nesting and foraging habitat for grassland birds like goldfinches, indigo buntings, and prairie warblers and food for insects such as bees and butterflies. Seeps and springs in the meadows are used as year round water sources and feeding and breeding sites by amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals. Dominant plants include goldenrods, asters, yarrow, New York ironweed, warm season grasses and sedges. In wetter areas one can find Joe-Pye weed, boneset, swamp milkweed, rushes, and blue lobelia. Our Bird Box nesting trail meanders its way through the meadows; Eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, chickadees and wrens all utilize nest boxes. Join our volunteer monitoring program and become a citizen scientist.
Our visitor parking area is constructed with conventional asphalt for the main cartway with parking bays of porous asphalt for infiltration. Runoff is directed from the aisle into the bays. The parking area is fairly level to allow the maximum amount of infiltration. Runoff from the surrounding area is intercepted and directed to the subsurface storage/recharge bed.
There are no curbs or gutters. During very intense rainstorms, any rainwater that cannot percolate will flow over into the overflow inlet and into a bio-retention area, where water is retained until it infiltrates into the ground. This basin is planted with native grasses and wildflowers that can tolerate occasional standing water, such as penstemons and bee balm, and attracts bees and butterflies. A second bio-retention area in the bus circle acts as a vernal pool. Native wetland plants have colonized the area which is now home to a wide variety of frogs and toads as well as nesting red-winged blackbirds. Native plants and shrubs will be installed in the bio-retention areas, as well as being used for other landscape plantings in the project area.
The parking bay islands feature fruiting hawthorne trees that attract cedar waxwings and robins, underplanted with native perennials that produce nectar and seed for insects and birds. The planting around the parking area and pavilion highlight fruit and nut producing trees and shrubs providing habitat and wildlife food. These plantings, along with a variety of bird feeders, greatly increase the number of bird species one can observe by sitting in the pavilion.
We invite you to participate in a number of ways - our monthly naturalist led wildlife walks, become a volunteer bird box monitor, or monitor and fill the bird feeders. Most of all, let us know what you have observed.