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Group 2 Delaware River Watershed Initiative


French Creek: Open Space, Cleaner Water

At a beautiful and historic farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, conservationists are seeing big results from their efforts to preserve open space, and not in the way everyone would imagine.

Yes, the land is beautiful, and now open to the public for hiking and exploring. And for sure the Revolutionary War ruins are fascinating. The old stone manor house and outbuildings of Warwick Furnace Farm are gorgeous, and this narrow valley looks much as it did in the 1700’s.

But what’s striking to many is how land protections are creating measurably cleaner water in French Creek, which provides drinking water for downstream communities, and feeds into the Delaware River.

The headwaters of French Creek are found in a more developed and agriculturally-intensive landscape. The headwaters stretch of the creek is not doing well because of runoff from farms, roofs and parking lots.

Downstream, however, the picture changes. And that’s where land preservation comes in. In 2015, French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust bought the farm, the site of a Revolutionary War smelting furnace that made cannons and cannonballs for George Washington’s troops.

Trails on the farm are now open for public use, and its 533 acres are being cared for with an eye toward cleaner water. That means reforestation on the streambanks, and letting old agricultural lands return to meadow and forest. It also means dealing with runoff from an old gravel road, and ensuring that conservation easements are held on surrounding properties.  

The results are speaking for themselves: water in the middle stretch of French Creek is cleaner, there is less sediment, and stream wildlife is returning, particularly rare freshwater mussels.

“In this one project you have a site of historic significance going all the way back to the Revolutionary War, the striking architecture of the buildings, the impact of restoring the forest to help improve the water quality of French Creek and the truly amazing and stunning scenic value of this landscape nestled in the narrow valley,” said Ole Amundsen, program manager for The Conservation Fund, one of many project funders.

For clean water advocates, Warwick Furnace Farm is a great example of how care for the land and communities, along with our history, also results in the clean water we all depend on.

This work is part of a regional clean water initiative dubbed the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. The Delaware River Watershed Initiative is among the country’s largest non-governmental conservation efforts to protect and restore clean water—a first-of-its-kind collaboration involving 65 non-governmental organizations working together to protect and restore the Delaware River and its tributaries, which provide drinking water for 15 million people in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.

Cover photo: Preserve Manager Will Mancuso and daughter Lily at Warwick Furnace Farm, under the immense oak known as “Anna’s Oak.”