By Vidja Rajan, Columnist, The Times
Round trip distance: 3 miles (can be extended to about 5 miles)
Difficulty: Moderate – occasional steep slopes
Caution: Hunting during the winter deer season. Times are posted. Wear blaze orange and keep dogs on leash.
Trail Map: http://goo.gl/maps/nLiw
The H.E. Myrick Conservation Center houses the headquarters of the Brandywine Valley Association (BVA) and the Red Clay Valley Association (RCVA). These are two important watersheds in this area, and the mission of the BVA is to “Promote the restoration, preservation, conservation and enjoyment of the natural resources of the Brandywine Valley through education programs, environmental studies and projects, and technological advocacy.” Educational programs and camps for kids offered through the center, free summer music series on Thursday evenings, and a huge number of community events sponsored by the BVA such as the Food and Wine Festival, Point-to-Point, Sounds under the Stars and others make this a popular destination for activities other than hiking. But hiking here is a joyful experience. Please also consider a membership to The BVA and RCVA to support their stewardship of these watersheds.
This 326-acre area has many hiking trails of various distances. The trail described here is essentially a dumbbell-shaped perimeter trail (http://goo.gl/maps/nLiw) with the first part around the North section (shown in blue) across Unionville-Wawaset Road and the South section (shown in red) later after crossing back further down the road and combining the two loops with the green linking path. The North and South sections can be done independently as a loop trails as well, as shown on the map. Note that this trail around the perimeter has several steep slopes. If you prefer a flatter walk, eschew the North part and stay on the South (red) loop. Note that the center is closed to hikers between 9am and 3pm during the week, and occasionally closed at weekends if events are taking place. Please check the website before you set out. Follow all posted rules. Dog waste bags are provided – please pick up after your pet.
From the parking lot, head towards the road. On your way, pick up a Trail Guide from the container on the fence on your right, and cross Unionville-Wawaset Road at the pedestrian crossing. The Trail Guide is part of an Eagle Scout project and gives some interesting insights into features that you will see on your hike around the North loop. Note the large and splendid oak tree at the entrance to the parking lot. The Trail Guide tells us that this is a Penn Oak – a tree that was a sapling back in the 1600’s when William Penn first set foot in Pennsylvania. Notice the Springhouse, from which the British allegedly pilfered Mrs. Baker’s pies before the Battle of the Brandywine. No, I am not making this up. Cross the Road, and notice the Browning Barn at the entrance to the North side of the park. The Browning Barn is a vast 3-storeyed building with the original sections dating back to the early 1800’s. It currently serves as the center for educational programs. The silo beside it is of unusual design for this area, and is made of wood bent to clad an inside wooden scaffold.
Follow the trail straight ahead through a pleasant tunnel which opens out at the Sky Top, a wide panorama of trees and fields. The slopes of the hill ahead are a popular sledding spot. Follow the trail down the hill to the bottom and you will come to a bifurcation (0.2 miles). Veer left here, noting the various areas used for camp and team-building activities around you. Follow the path around the base of the field and it will turn and bifurcate again. Again take the left path, which now traverses the field and turn right at the top. This path will lead you up the hill following a line of brambles and wine berries interspersed with mile-a-minute weed, multiflora rose, and Russian olive. At the top of this steady climb (0.5 mile), stop and turn around and take in the sweeping view. This view is particularly impressive when a mist hangs over the fields during the Fall, or after a snowfall. Leave the view and follow the path ahead – there is another spectacular view to come. As you pass along the wide path in winter snow, look for fox and deer tracks crossing over from one side to the other. If you are lucky, you will see a rabbit hurriedly hopping into the bushes.
As you follow the path ahead, it will curve and drop away, and ahead of you is the spectacular view of fields and trees mentioned earlier. This view always makes me catch my breath. If you are both lucky and a quiet hiker, you will see deer grazing in the field ahead of you in the Fall. Follow this path down (in the winter this is another popular sledding trail and gets quite icy, so watch out) to the base of the hill (0.68 mile). The path again splits, this time into three paths – one path goes straight ahead to the other side of the field – this is where you want to end up, but for a slightly longer hike, take the left path and loop around the field to the same point. Look back to where you entered the field – the view behind is spooky when it’s foggy with the trees looming eerily out of the mist. Go left at this point, and follow the path as it winds to the right around the clump of trees and brush leading to the road. The lake and land around it are private, so stay on the path as it hugs the trees, crosses the small stream, and turns left along the streamline. You will arrive on Bragg Road and here cross Unionville-Wawaset Road back to the South side of the Myrick Conservation Center (0.9 mile).
Be careful as you cross the road – cars coming around the curve cannot see you. Fallen deer along this corridor are testimony to the speed at which automobiles travel, so do please be careful. The path into Myrick Center is clearly visible on the other side. To your left is private property. The path now bifurcates, and this time, take the path on the right, up the hill. This section is quite steep, but the reward is probably the single largest collection I personally have seen of yellow poplars (tulip poplars) with multiple trunks – mostly twos but some threes. The path curves around to the right along a fence line (1.04 miles) and then makes a sharp left (1.14miles). At this point, the path is a little overgrown with multiflora rose and there are stands of particularly healthy looking poison ivy, so watch your step. The path then crosses a small stream and turns right (1.16 miles).
The section of woodland ahead is probably my personal favorite. The trees thin out but are still splendid. Fallen tree trunks lie around, giving a slightly primeval feel to the place. The path bifurcates at 1.3 miles, and here, take the right hand fork. The bank on the right before the bridge crossing has a smattering of delicate trout lilies in the spring. Cross over the bridge and take the path immediately to the left. This path slopes gently uphill, passing many spice bushes (note the plaque) with their dark green and fragrant leaves. The path emerges from the woods after passing between two sentinel poplars. At this point (1.5 miles), go left. (Note: as I write this in mid-June, a tree has fallen across this path further ahead. If it is still down, go right around the clump of trees in a counter-clockwise direction instead to emerge along the same route.) The path is briefly bordered by brambles, and turns sharp right through an opening in the hedge to emerge at one corner of a large field. At this point, you can choose to return to the car park following the red loop shown on the map or turn left to go around the perimeter of the South loop. Here, I take the left-hand path to go clockwise around the perimeter of this field.
At this point, the view is expansive, and the clump of trees in the middle makes a nice break in the monotony of fields. Follow the path down and around, and you will eventually come to a crossing over a culvert. Take a sharp left into the woods at this point (1.95 miles). The path here is muddy after rain, and in this case, instead of turning left, carry straight on and you will get to the same point. The path through these woods is pleasant, though, so do take it at some point. This path leads to a stream with a small fishing pier over it. This is a pleasant spot for reflection. When you’re done reflecting, turn around and go uphill, passing a teepee along the way (2 miles). Exit the woods at the top (where the other path previously mentioned meets this one).Take a left turn, and walk along the perimeter of the fields. You will pass a little algae-covered pond hidden behind trees on your right (2.25 miles). Continue to follow the path around the large fields. Along the way, your path will run parallel to Corinne Road, Red Lion Road and Unionville-Wawaset Road. There are sometimes swallows swooping in the fields, and the occasional rabbit or deer hopping into the hedgerow along the fence line. Mostly it’s a pleasant amble up the hill and past the administrative buildings back to the parking lot. As you pass the administrative buildings, note the lovely garden of native plants along the path, and the “Homes for Chester County Birds” in front of the parking lot. Please return your Trail Guide to the container.
Nearby places of interest:
Northbrook Marketplace is located on the corner of Route 842 and Northbrook Road, and makes a great stopping off point for an ice-cream on a hot day or a hot beverage on a cold one. The baked goods here are mouthwatering. Northbrook also carries local produce and craft. This is a great place to sit outside on a pleasant day after a brisk hike and watch the world go by.
Barnard’s Orchards grows fruit and vegetables that are sold in a laid back store on the premises. Barnard’s also sells plants, preserves, local honey, and cider. Picking apples in the Fall at Barnard’s Orchards is a great activity to do with kids.
Northbrook Canoe on Northbrook Road is open during the summer (May through October) for canoe and kayak hire. Northbrook Canoes also sponsor several local events: Brandywine Cleanup; Northbrook Canoe Challenge; Marshalltown Triathlon. Website: http://www.northbrookcanoe.com/
Naturalist notes: Water quality
Monitoring water quality allows the tracking of deterioration as well as improvements in quality through the measurement of physical, chemical, and biological parameters. Physical parameters include water clarity and odor; chemical parameters include dissolved oxygen, phosphate, and nitrogen content; and biological parameters are the presence of pollution intolerant mayfly and stonefly larvae and water penny beetles. These levels are measured periodically by organizations such as Red Streams Blue, sponsored by the Brandywine Valley Association. When a stream fails, the organization works to restore quality through the management of runoff and erosion.
Standards for water quality vary based on the proposed use of the water – for example drinking water has more stringent standards for the presence of microorganisms than water for irrigation – the presence of some ions or absence of some indicator species point to a water source that is contaminated. Contamination comes from various sources. Some are natural, such as ions in the soil; but other sources are human-driven, such as fertilizers on lawns and crops, and storm water contamination. Some steps that you can implement to help reduce water pollution can be found at: http://www.brandywinewatershed.org/2008/redstreamsblue/WatershedStewards.asp